Westminster let Scotland down over meat plant visas - Alan McNaughton

Scotland’s meat processors and wholesalers have been badly served by Westminster over the past 12 months, it was claimed yesterday.

The Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) struck out at the lack of a workable and practicable visa scheme which would have allowed skilled staff to be recruited from the EU after Brexit, stating that the industry had effectively been abandoned by the UK Government and left to its own devices to find a competent workforce.

“Maintaining our workforce at a level that keeps the business viable has been the overwhelming concern for my members throughout the year, and with virtually no real help available from Westminster, businesses have been left on their own to fight a lone battle to find skilled workers," said the organisation’s president, Alan McNaughton.

And he took a swipe at the effectiveness of the emergency visa arrangements that were put in place in October.

“This so-called temporary solution completely missed the point in the first place and hasn’t delivered to any significant degree in the two months since being put in place,” said McNaughton.

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“Member companies desperately need a long-term solution, tailored to address a serious shortage of skilled workers, not a sticking plaster response designed to get us through Christmas and the New Year,” he continued.

And he concluded that the measures didn’t even deliver in the short-term:

“As such, the early months of 2022 will be dominated by continuing labour supply problems, accompanied by rising costs from all quarters.”

And, claiming that that the inevitable increases in labour costs were likely to be reflected in higher end product prices, McNaughton warned of the certainty of a consequent rise in food inflation.

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But the trade body president also struck out at a list of other additional costs which his sector had been forced to bear, and called for some financial support from the Scottish Government towards extra costs incurred by the mandatory requirement for the installation of CCTV cameras in abattoirs at the cost of around £20,000 per plant.

Mc Naughton said that while £5,000 had been awarded to island plants, not a penny had been promised for larger commercial mainland operations.

“In addition… some farmers have been awarded financial support under the Sustainable Agriculture Grant Scheme to install CCTV in their livestock pens. This needs to be rectified and support made available to all parts of the supply chain that are subject to this new statutory requirement.”

Warning that the costs of compliance had adversely impinged on the sector across the board over recent decades he said:

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“Twenty years ago, there were there were over 30 meat plants operating in Scotland - now we have only 14 plants processing livestock, with many parts of the country being without an abattoir in the local area.

Claiming the constant burden of compliance costs had been a major contributory factor to this he said that competitor industries in the protein supply market had been largely spared from paying any of these charges, he concluded:

“This needs to change in 2022.”

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