20.The issues discussed above primarily refer to the immediate demands of the sector. In addition, we pressed our witnesses for potential solutions to the longer-term problems with the agricultural labour supply and, ultimately, what could be done to reduce the sector’s reliance on foreign workers and so avoid some of the short-term shocks affecting the industry.
21.Robert Goodwill summarised the overall direction of Government policy in this area: “It must be part of our long-term solution that the sector becomes less reliant on migrant labour and uses more UK workers”. In our session on 15 March, both Robert Goodwill and George Eustice highlighted various strands of Government activity which were intended to achieve this policy aim:
22.The summary provided to us by the Government echoed what we had already been told by our witnesses, who were broadly in favour of the Government’s work. It was noted, however, that the biggest problem was one of “culture” and mind-set. According to Minette Batters of the NFU:
I was visiting a grower in Cornwall last year, who said, “Historically we had no problem sourcing UK workers; we always advertise for UK workers.” However, he pointed to a business park adjacent to the farm and said, “People now would rather go and work 9 to 5; they know the hours, it is warm and dry, and they have seen a massive cultural change.”
Our witnesses were further unanimous that, no matter what policies the Government adopted, there would always be some need for temporary, migrant labour in the sector.
23.We discussed with representatives of Unite the Union the particular issues faced by the industry in recruiting and training skilled workers. It was suggested by Unite that the move towards greater automation in the sector would heighten these issues and would have both positive and negative impacts on the type of labour required. We pressed Unite for their views on exactly how this might shape the workforce. Unite itself was unable to precisely say and, more importantly, was unaware of “any research going on on that basis” or of any assessment of future skill needs and the cost of meeting these.
24.Inquiring into the long-term labour needs of the agricultural sector raises many questions on the future shape and working practices of that sector, as well as on many strands of Government activity in the areas of education and rural policy. Our successor Committee will, we are sure, address these issues either through specific inquiries or as part of its wider work throughout the next Parliament.
25.We are pleased to note the Government’s many strands of work in increasing the agricultural labour supply and we are confident that the effects of these will be closely scrutinised in the new Parliament.
25 April 2017