Making Brexit work for our industries

An open letter to Rt Hon David Davis MP

I am writing on behalf of three trade associations, which together represent over 2,000 food businesses in the UK and employ over 300,000 people. Our members range from major manufacturers and retailers, to small ‘mama and papa’ shops.

While many in the food industry are very concerned about the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, our Associations take the view that many of the more negative concerns can be positively resolved and add value to the sector.

Employment 

The foodservice sector is a major contributor to the UK economy. The UK sandwich industry alone is now valued at over £8 billion and the pizza pasta and Italian food sector adds a further £5 billion to this. The outside catering market is also worth in excess of £1 billion.

Furthermore, the sandwich industry in particular is a major indirect contributor to the tourism industry and is the envy of the world in terms of the way it operates. Indeed, we regularly host visitors from overseas interested in replicating our industry and we market this expertise abroad as well as the technology that goes with it.

From manufacturing to small corner sandwich shops, cafes and pizzerias, our industry is extremely dependent on manual labour of which there are already shortages in some areas. While in manufacturing this might in the long term be addressed through automation, the complexity of making products such as sandwiches makes this more difficult than in industries where components are more regular in shape.

In the foodservice sector, which accounts for a substantial part of these markets, where there is already a shortage of people in some areas, there is a vital need for recruiting people with good service skills. This is particularly true in London and the South East. See addendum.

With natural growth in our markets, our industries can provide substantially more jobs in the future but we are already reliant on employees from outside the UK, particularly young people who are generally here to study or gain work experience.

We fully understand the need to control immigration, we believe there is a real opportunity for the UK to both support the growth in these industries and provide those working in them to gain skills that they can take back to their own countries.

Various suggestions have been made for a points system for allowing workers into the UK. However, this would penalise those without specific skills, which our industry needs.

Our alternative suggestion is that the UK creates a ‘training’ programme which would allow workers into the UK on a six or 12 month visa provided that they are receiving training. The visa might be specific to an employer, so that the individual is bound to that employer for the period.

In return, our industries would be prepared to put together a structured training programme for them.

In addition, in areas where there are already specific skills shortages – such as with experienced pizza chefs – we would welcome a points system provided that it allowed for the shortages of such skills.

Our members would also undertake to advertise vacancies in the UK before seeking candidates from abroad.

We believe this approach could be used to continue to provide these industries with the employees they so rely upon while also introducing controls on immigration in a structured way.

Food Legislation

If the UK food industry is to maintain its markets in Europe, we fully appreciate that it will be necessary for us to continue following European regulations and that it will be difficult to have separate rules for those operating exclusively in the UK market.

However, there are some anomalies that can make a difference in the UK.

One of these is the term ‘Use by’. The UK sandwich industry, where products have an extremely short shelf-life of generally two days, used to be allowed to use the term ‘Use by end of’. This was, however, ruled out in the Food Information Regulations from Europe.   

We would welcome the flexibility to return to this as we believe it is both clearer to consumers and to retailers. This simple change would have a significant impact on food wastage at the end of shelf-life.

This is a good example of where the UK’s lead - in this case in chilled foods - can be compromised by legislation due to lack of full understanding of the markets by EU legislators.

The UK leads by some way as a European nation in the Food-to-Go sector. As other EU markets are less well developed, this can lead to ‘one size fits all’ legislation being created that does not fit with the developing UK market.  

We would welcome an open approach that would enable UK businesses to negotiate regulations before they are adopted into UK law that can have a negative impact on our home market.

After Brexit, the UK will no longer have representation on EU committees. We would welcome the setting up of a body, with representation from across the UK industry, to advise on the adoption of new regulations and guidance.

Yours faithfully,

Jim Winship
Director
The British Sandwich & Food-to-Go Association

Signed additionally on behalf of the following organisations:

  • The Asian Catering Association
  • The Café Society
  • The National Caterering Association (NCASS)
  • The Pizza Pasta & Italian Food Association (PAPA)

Addendum - Data from Fourth Analytics

Fourth Analytics is a major provider of HR and payroll software to the Restaurant sector.   They report:

Currently more than two-fifths (43%) of workers in the restaurant, QSR, hotel and pub sectors are foreign nationals, according to latest figures from Fourth Analytics.

The research, which was based on a sample comprising 25,000 employees, graphically illustrates the impact a ‘hard’ Brexit would have – if Britain’s exit from the European Union served to limit hospitality businesses’ ability to recruit non-UK nationals.

The numbers spike dramatically for restaurants, with 57% of workers originating from outside of the UK; split 51% for front-of-house (FOH) and a significant 71% – for the kitchen and back-of-house (BOH) roles.

The study also revealed:

  • The average length of tenure hospitality workers spend at a business is 12 months.
  • BOH employees take an average of 9.5 sick days a year – up from 8.5 in 2015.
  • FOH employees take an average of 6.9 sick days a year.
  • The gender split FOH in the hospitality industry is 41% male, 59% female.
  • The gender split BOH in the hospitality industry is 58% male, 42% female.
  • 86% of hospitality workers are paid by the hour.
  • The average hourly pay of hospitality workers is £7.71 – 51p higher than the NLW.
  • The average ages of hospitality workers, split by sector, are: hotels, 35.5; QSR, 30; restaurant, 29.8; pubs, 28.6.
  • BOH employees work an average of 34 hours a week – 12 hours more than FOH employees, where part-time work is more prevalent.
  • 9% of BOH employees are under 21, compared to 20% for FOH.

Mike Shipley, analytics & insight solutions director at Fourth, said: “These figures clearly demonstrate how heavily reliant hospitality is on foreign nationals, especially in the restaurant sector, and especially back of house.

“As we know, there is already a battle for talent, with companies working extremely hard to attract, retain and engage staff. It’s an issue that is exacerbated in restaurant kitchens and it’s driving up wage levels well beyond legislative thresholds, such as the national minimum wage. With Brexit uncertainty looming over the industry, the sooner the Government can deliver clarity and reassurance, the better.”