SAWS decision a major blow to UK’s £3.7bn horticulture sector

by James Hallett

Britain’s horticulture industry has expressed concern that long-term prospects for sustainable growth and investment within the UK’s £3.7bn fresh produce sector may have been put at risk by short-term political considerations following the UK Government’s decision not to replace the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) at the end of this year. 

The British Growers Association is seeking an urgent meeting with Ministers to understand how the Government intends to work with the sector to identify and recruit suitable workers from the available labour market in the light of this decision.

In response to today’s announcement by Immigration Minister Mark Harper MP, British Growers Association chief executive James Hallett said the decision not to establish a replacement scheme was at odds with the advice of the Government’s own independent Migration Advisory Committee, which warned earlier this year that without SAWS the UK horticulture sector could face contraction, increased imports and 10-15% higher fresh produce prices.

“The Government appears to have ignored the Committee’s advice to consider a successor scheme targeting workers from non-EU countries such as the Ukraine. This could have a significant and damaging impact on investment and production decisions affecting the UK with immediate effect.

“Britain’s horticulture sector is a high-value sector of the rural economy, producing 22% of the output value of UK farming on just 4% of the land area. Our industry has a key role to play in supporting the Government’s drive for economic growth within the agri-food sector. Through improvements in efficiency and innovation, British growers have a key opportunity to expand production and reduce a £4bn trade deficit within the sector.

“But continuing uncertainty over access to seasonal migrant labour, when sufficient workers cannot be found here in the UK, represents a major threat to future production and investment plans.

“Ministers need to explain how they intend to work with industry, as indicated in today’s announcement, to help growers recruit enough seasonal workers, because without adequate and reliable staffing levels it is almost inevitable that many UK producers will cancel investment plans and switch production out of the UK,” said Mr Hallett.

ENDS

Notes to Editors
The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) allows an annual quota of 21,250 Bulgarian and Romanian workers to enter the UK for a maximum period of six months, accounting for one-third of Britain’s seasonal agricultural labour force. The scheme is due to close at the end of 2013 when transitional controls on these Eastern European nationals are lifted.

The Migration Advisory Committee’s report into the future of SAWS (14 May 2013) warned that the British horticulture sector faces contraction and disinvestment if growers fail to meet the staffing levels required for essential planting and harvesting operations. It advised the Government to consider proposals for a replacement scheme targeting workers from non-EU countries such as Ukraine which have a high number of agricultural students.
The Migration Advisory Committee’s report, entitled ‘The impact on the horticulture and food processing sectors of closing the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme and the Sectors Based Scheme’, is available online at: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/documents/aboutus/workingwithus/mac/35-mac-seasonal/migrant-seasonal-workers?view=Binary

The British Growers Association (BGA) represents UK fresh produce growers. The British horticulture sector is worth £3.7bn to the UK economy, employing over 100,000 full-time and seasonal workers. Horticulture is a high-value sector of the rural economy, producing 20% of the output value of UK farming on just 4% of the land area. BGA works to support an innovative, technically advanced and environmentally responsible horticulture sector, combining efficient production of high quality fresh produce with careful stewardship and protection of natural resources.


Contact:
James Hallett, chief executive, British Growers Association
T: 07775 644475
E: james.hallett@britishgrowers.org
W: www.britishgrowers.org
 

Issued by:
Daniel Pearsall, Front Foot Communications
T: 07770 875455
E: daniel.pearsall@frontfoot.uk.com