M&S urges government to end Northern Ireland border checks and help solve labour shortage

M&S food chief urges government to help farming and food industry
M&S food chief urges government to help farming and food industry
// M&S food managing director Stuart Machin has urged the government to adopt technology make goods crossing the Northern Irish border frictionless
// Machin said if issues such as goods movement and labour shortages were not resolved Northern Ireland could become more reliant on food imported from overseas

M&S food managing director Stuart Machin has written to the prime minister to urge the government to use find a long-term solution for moving goods into Northern Ireland to avoid it becoming increasingly reliant on overseas, rather than British produce.

Machin said technology could provide a solution and show that product from Great Britain stays in Northern Ireland without the need for certification.

“We also strongly believe that with similar technology and common sense we can make any border frictionless with no material detriment to customs controls or food safety.”

Machin pushed forward a “Facilitated Movement Scheme”, whereby approved and accredited firms could move from every product being checked to a risk-based approach underpinned by auditing and penalties for failure.

M&S has experienced disruption in Northern Ireland since the UK left Europe. It decided to halt Christmas food ordering in the country as “there was too much risk” it would let customers down.

Last November, M&S chairman Archie Norman wrote to Brexit minister at the time David Frost to warn Brussels’ proposed trade agreement would result in more, not less, red tape.

He said the bloc’s offer “could result in worsening friction and cost and a high level of ambiguity and scope for dispute”.

Solving the labour shortage

Machin also set out other measures the government should adopt to help solve the labour shortage in farming and help the UK food industry to thrive.

These included more flexible visa protocols for European HGV drivers and farm workers, boosting innovation in the food industry via a Food and Agritech Research Council to boost innovation in food production, and repurposing the Apprenticeship Levy programme to also focus on skills such as HGV driving and production line maintenance.

He wrote: “The pressures facing UK food and farming are real. We cannot let the period of transition be an excuse for the retail sector to divert supply abroad and unravel a farming sector that delivers high standards of quality, welfare, and innovation, and – by default – increases our reliance on imports.”

READ MORE: M&S hails ‘strong Christmas’ performance across all divisions

His letter to the prime minister was co-signed by 14 other industry heavy hitters, including Müller, Greencore and Bakkavor.

“As the nation’s largest private sector employer, it is a testament to the hard work of our fantastic colleagues that we have been able to navigate these challenges. Throughout this period, the government has been a valued partner.

“But as we look ahead to 2022 and beyond, we need to continue that partnership to build a sustainable, resilient food sector for the long term.”

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