This is getting serious. Never mind global shortages of microchips, plastics, copper and container ships; now we’re running out of pigs in blankets. The British Meat Processing Association says its members are so understaffed that annual production of 40 million packs of this popular pork item for the Christmas market is under threat. The British public have so far stoically accepted occasional empty supermarket shelves as a pandemic knock-on, to be blamed in part on necessary pinging of key workers and delivery drivers and in part on neighbours’ stockpiling, rather than on systemic government cock-up. But if the succulent sausage-in-bacon delicacy is nowhere to be found, trouble will surely follow.
I jest in the interest of asking a proper question: why won’t ministers listen to the Road Haulage Association, the National Farmers’ Union and the Food and Drink Federation when they ask for a short-term visa system that would allow EU and other foreign workers back into the UK to fill the skilled vacancies that are disrupting their sectors and holding back wider recovery? Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng bats the idea away, urging employers instead to take on some of the two million Britons who are still in the furlough scheme that ends this month and are likely to need new opportunities. As a long-term transition, that makes sense. But how many months will it take to qualify 100,000 former shop workers as HGV drivers; and how many former airline crew fancy a new career in an abattoir?
The truth behind ministers’ ‘line to take’ on this issue, I suspect, is that they’re under strict orders to say nothing that acknowledges how completely the government failed to plan for Brexit’s effects on the domestic labour market — or to foresee how that market would tighten as demand revived post-lockdown.
Now all they can do is hope the private sector will find its own solutions, as it usually does, despite government stupidity.