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South Holland suffering skill shortage in horticulture, haulage, food production and processing

A serious skills shortage is affecting all of South Holland’s major industries.

Horticulture, haulage, food production and processing - which are vital to the area’s economy - are currently reporting difficulties in finding staff, as are hospitality and retail, according to the Greater Lincolnshire Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

An ageing workforce, Brexit and unfair funding rules are some of the issues which are hampering firms in recruiting staff.

Simon Redden, centre, with John Bratley and Peter Thorold, says providing subsidies would help the skills shortage
Simon Redden, centre, with John Bratley and Peter Thorold, says providing subsidies would help the skills shortage

Latest figures show 2,900 people in the district are currently claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance while seven per cent remain on furlough.

Simon Redden, of Redford Flowers, says one of the problems faced by horticulture businesses, which produce anything from flowers to vegetables, is that they are unable to compete with wages due to an ‘unfair’ Government subsidies system, which is paid to agricultural business.

Mr Redden said: “We would be able to pay £12-15 an hour if we had that subsidy and that has been a major problem we are working against when trying to attract the right people into the industry.

“We have spent £3 million over the last 10 years to bring the business forward to manage with a very lower skill set of employees. We have a fantastic but small team.

“That investment means that we can continue while those that haven’t made that investment as the labour force shrinks and wages get more and more expensive have to go out of business.

“There is not one simple answer to fix this, it is a huge problem and if we wait too long we will find that a lot of growers will have gone past the point of no return. We can’t wait five years, we need help in the next 12-18 months.”

A LEP spokesman said labour markets are in a state of flux due to the pandemic and added: “Many sectors are reporting difficulties in filling vacancies, including retail, hospitality, horticulture, food and haulage, which are critical sectors for South Holland. The drivers behind these increases in the difficulty to recruit are complex and different for each sector.

“There are a number of nationally funded initiatives that employers can use to attract people into their business - for example, the Kickstart initiative that pays the wages of a trainee and financial incentives to take on apprenticeships.

“There are also training schemes to upskill existing members of teams.”

Simon Beardsley, chief executive of Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce, said it is no surprise that South Holland is seeing a skills shortage in food production.

He said: “South Holland employs a large migrant workforce, so we have seen the exit from the EU have a huge impact on the skills shortage in the area, with the UK points-based system being introduced, meaning anyone coming to work in the UK has to meet a specific set of requirements, making it much more difficult for employers to employ EU citizens.

“As well, Covid has had an impact on migrant workers because of the restrictions imposed by UK government, which has led to those workers who might have traditionally looked to come to the UK looking for work in countries closer to their home, meaning the UK will lose out on this supply.

“Haulage businesses are reporting driver shortages because of the changes brought about by IR35 (tax rules), the general ageing demographic of the workforce, Brexit ending recruitment from the EU, a backlog of driving tests caused by Covid-19 and self-employment tax reforms that have led to EU drivers leaving the UK with the ongoing impact pushing up cost as hourly wage rates have been pushed up by between 10 and 30% and the daily stress of matching driver to demand.”

He added the chamber had been reporting and lobbying on behalf of its members and that education providers play a vital role in solving this issue.

Mr Beardsley said: “Skills shortages, particularly around employability skills, such as digital skills, adaptability as well as emotional intelligence, have and will become more and more important in a post-Covid world along with the need for those sectors that have been hardest hit to look at support for retraining their workforce.”

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