Saturday, 23 October 2021

Something's wrong ... must be Brexit

I wrote this on twitter. I said I would come back but need rather more than 180 characters so …

The headlines were at fever pitch with reports of shortages, empty shelves and UK going to hell in a hand cart. The knee jerk and convenient response from a parochial point of view was that Brexit is clearly the cause. But something wasn’t adding up in my own professional life in the hotel industry that could easily explain all this, and the poultry situation in particular, by shouting Brexit at every turn. I work in the UK but I also work in Benelux, Scandinavia, central Europe, eastern Europe into Russia and central Asia. Brexit could not explain why I had to attend emergency meetings across multiple nations to crisis manage acute labour shortages, supply chain catastrophes and hotels not having sufficient supplies to open or open fully. Emergency meetings were, and are, taking place to reformulate menus and service to match the reduced resources being experienced across Europe. I have responsibility in 31 countries and in those countries outside the UK not yet fully open from coronavirus restrictions there is a palpable sense of foreboding that when they are allowed the open, they simply won’t be able to because they can’t fully stock and fully staff.

So, while some maintain that Brexit is wholly to blame for shortages of all kinds in the UK this is not borne out by the issue of 5.4 million grants of settled status to EU citizens in the UK. Brexit is, at most, a marginal reason for disruption we are experiencing, and far more profound influences are at play. Ironically coronavirus, known for lockdown and people not going anywhere, created the greatest movement of people in recent times. The global economy developed over the last 30 years has seen international labour on a scale never seen before. Ease of travel, budget airlines and digital connectivity has removed many economic and social barriers and people of all sections of society have been working all over the world with little difficulty. All these people went home for lockdown and few returned. Countries in the G7 did well out of globalisation and accessing labour worldwide and it is these countries which are now experiencing the greatest impact of labour shortages.

Everywhere you go there are shortages and everywhere you go there is a local situation being scapegoated. In central Europe the blame is placed on lack of migrant labour and road hauliers leaving the industry. The further east you go the less profound the domestic situation but they are still hit by global problems of supply chain. In Poland, for example, with many workers returning to Poland and staying at home they don’t have as profound a labour shortage as central Europe but they are definitely caught up with more global issues. Specifically with poultry, Poland is facing a triple whammy of rising feed prices pushing up costs, reeling from the avian flu outbreak this year and recovering from coronavirus. There is a fourth ‘whammy’ where the UK can be implicated and is why I have focussed on Poland. Before the lockdown the UK imported 134,500 tons of poultry products from Poland. This amounted to 14% of UK poultry consumption. The UK was second only to Germany as Poland biggest export partner for poultry. This is significantly dropped and the Polish National body for poultry producers and the Polish Government are pulling out all the stops to encourage the UK to import Polish poultry meat once more. You could add a fourth ‘whammy’ with the serious outbreak of Salmonella enteritidis entering the UK food chain resulting in 500 food poisonings and at least one death. Confidence in Polish poultry products is impacted and, again, this disrupts the supply chain.

So while some will jump for the Brexit scapegoat in the UK, other countries leap to their scapegoats. The reason for shortages is a complex mix of reasons and if we are collectively guilty of anything it’s being so na├»ve to think that a the most major economic disrupter since WW2 wouldn’t have these profound effects and it seems no Government has prepared for it.




Thursday, 30 July 2020

Eat Out Help Out - Check, Don't Chuck

The Chancellor has done an amazing job throughout the coronavirus crisis. Protecting jobs, lives and livelihoods. The Eat Out to Help Out scheme is an absolute masterstroke of orginality and will be a real boost to the hard hit hospitality industry.
As an Environmental Health Practitioner I am concerned that, while most outlets participating in the scheme are good and well managed, there are a number with very low food hygiene ratings. In my open letter I've asked that the Eat Out to Help Out website has a link to the food standards agency food hygiene ratings so diners, eating out with the compliments of the Chancellor can check and make an informed choice.