THE UK's policy for jobs has been condemned as "at best ineffective and at worst hostile" to the types of jobs Scotland needs, a food industry chief has said.

During an evidence session to Holyrood's Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee, Scotland Food and Drink chief executive James Withers detailed the issues the sector faces as a result of Brexit staff shortages.

He said that the shortage occupation list is letting "ballet dancers but not butchers" into the UK under the post-Brexit rules.

Withers (below) was responding to a question from SNP MSP Alasdair Allan about a letter he signed that was sent to the UK Government about action needed to "save Christmas" as the industry has reached "crisis point".

He said: "There have been underlying labour issues facing our sector like many others of the economy. Dwindling working-age population for a sector that is in rural areas that are facing depopulation.

The National: Chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink James Withers

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"Covid and Brexit have come together to push a number of supply chains to breaking point. So 1.3 million people left the UK during the course of the pandemic and post-Brexit immigration rules make it extremely difficult for many of them to come back in.

"The immigration policy at the moment for the kinds of jobs we need cover for is at best ineffective and at worst is deemed hostile by the very people we need to bring in."

He added that the shortage occupation list for workers in the UK does not cover many roles that Scotland's food and drinks sector needs cover for, adding: "That will allow ballet dancers to come into the UK but it won't allow butchers. If you speak to any red meat business at the moment in Scotland, they will tell you they have a massive problem with the availability of that particular job despite the fact that a trainee butcher in a Scottish red meat business will learn more than a trainee accountant at one of the world's big firms. So it's not a wages and pay thing."

What this means on the ground, Withers said, is that East of Scotland Growers have recently had to destroy around 2.5m broccoli and 1.5m cauliflower as they were unable to get the product to market due to staff shortages.

He said: "Food banks can't even deal as an option because it's perishable and the volumes so we are already losing product. That will have cost that business a million pounds."

He said that as staff shortages in the sector peak towards Christmas, there will be some "very real problems".

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The "single most important step that could be taken", Withers said, is for the Home Office to provide emergency recovery visas for the next 12 months so recruitment can be extended into the EU.

Withers also said earlier in the session that a source of frustration for many businesses has been the fact that controls on products coming into the UK have not yet started.

This means that despite the talk about "taking back control" of borders by the Tory government, the reality is that the EU has taken control of theirs.

Despite a "huge amount of bureaucracy and paperwork" for Scottish producers to get products into the EU, competitors in Europe currently have a "free ride" bringing products into the UK, Withers added.

The first document checks will start from October 1 and the first physical checks of goods are due to begin on January 1, 2022.

"The reason I suppose that there is something of an alarm bell around that is because we obviously already have real challenges in the delivery supply chain as result of labour shortages before we even start some of these checks," Withers said.

He added that "if even half the pain is felt" on import checks that has so far been felt on Scottish exports then there will be "real challenges".

He also questioned whether UK border posts are able to deal with the level of bureaucracy expected from these extra checks.

David Thomson, chief executive of Food & Drink Federation Scotland, said he knows of many small and medium-sized businesses that have stopped exporting to the EU because of the increasingly complex logistics and paperwork as a consequence of Brexit.

He explained it has become “too risky” for food producers and haulage companies, and said: “If you’re sending your products with a range of other companies then there’s too much risk there and so many people have actually exited exports into the EU until things calm down.”

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Earlier on in the session, Food Standards Scotland chief executive Geoff Ogle also said that they have seen "a significant period of change following the UK's decision to leave the EU".

He continued: "The first one of those is with regards to the recruitment of veterinary expertise and indeed meat hygiene expertise.

"All of our veterinary colleagues are EU nationals and without ready access to a supply of qualified vets from the EU or elsewhere, we are now struggling to recruit our business needs.

"We also have similar problems in terms of recruiting meat hygiene inspectors and changes to civil service nationality rules now prevent the recruitment of EU nationals as meat inspectors."