A TEMPORARY visa scheme for lorry drivers and poultry workers is "too little, too late" to save Scotland's Christmas from major disruption, an industry leader says.

The UK Government is to approve up to 5000 temporary visas for HGV drivers and another 5500 for poultry workers in the face of fuel shortages and fears over supermarket supplies.

But James Withers, chief executive of industry body Scotland Food & Drink, says ministers should have acted sooner — and he's said the three-month scheme is unlikely to stave off the trouble it's meant to tackle.

The organisation represents around 460 members and the sector is worth £14 billion.

Withers said: "This feels more like an attempt to fix bad headlines than fix the actual problem.

"We have been calling for emergency visas for weeks,to avoid the collapse of some food supply chains. Warnings about empty shelves have been sounded since the summer.

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"Whilst recognition of pressures in the haulage and poultry sector is welcome, this is a problem throughout the food supply chain and I seriously doubt that 10,000 three-month visas are going to cut it. It may help the driver situation a little but it won’t address the chronic staff shortage in food production.

"What is frustrating is that this move to offer extra visas has felt increasingly inevitable for weeks, if not months. Yet there hasn’t been action until even more gaps appeared on supermarket shelves and cars started queuing for fuel. 

"At this stage, my instinct is that this is too little, too late to make a real difference to the Christmas trade."

This Christmas will be the first since Brexit took effect on January 1. Farmers have warned consumers of possible turkey shortages, while there may also be problems with supplies of festive trees and toys, according to business bosses.

According to estimates by trade association Logistics UK, the UK is short of 90,000 HGV drivers thanks to factors including Brexit, Covid, an ageing workforce, low wages and poor working conditions.

READ MORE: Brexit pushing Scottish healthcare sectors to crisis point

Tory MP Tobias Ellwood has suggested that some of the Afghan refugees brought to the UK could be retrained to help solve the problem.

Responding to Withers, SNP immigration spokesperson Anne McLaughlin MP said the UK Government's plas are "grossly inadequate and will do next to nothing to address the multiple workforce shortages causing serious damage to Scotland’s vital food and drinks sector".

She went on: "Even during this deepening catastrophe, the Tories' inability to provide a proportionate response is driven by their disastrous hard Brexit dogma. This is not a solution, it’s a classic case of too little too late.

"The Prime Minister and senior Tory ministers were repeatedly warned about the damaging consequences of their extreme Brexit plans, including the threat of staff shortages, but they recklessly ploughed ahead anyway.

"Once again, ordinary people the length and breadth of Britain are paying the price with empty supermarket shelves, staff shortages and a lack of drivers leading to petrol station closures.

"With the Tories hell bent on pursuing their zealous anti-immigration agenda, the only way to protect Scotland is by becoming an independent country with our own immigration system which re-introduces freedom of movement."