Food sector bosses: Government action over self-isolation ‘worse than useless’

(Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)
16:11pm, Fri 23 Jul 2021
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Food industry bosses have condemned a “worse than useless” intervention by the Government over self-isolation rules and said confusion remains over supply chains.

It comes after a Government minister said more than 10,000 critical workers in the food sector would be given an exemption to self-isolation rules amid major staff shortages.

Around 500 firms in the food supply chain have been contacted directly by the Government to use a scheme, Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News on Friday.

Food bosses said there is still significant confusion over whether they will be contacted over exemptions, which workers will be eligible and whether they should apply directly.

Richard Harrow, chief executive of the British Frozen Food Federation, told the PA news agency there is uncertainty among firms over whether daily workplace testing will be involved to allow people to continue working if they are “pinged”.

He also said there are concerns that more workers may be freed up in some areas of the supply chain but not others such as in supermarkets.

He added: “The Government announcement last night that parts of the supply chain will be allowed to test and release workers that are pinged by Track and Trace only goes part of the way.

“It shows that yet again Government does not understand how connected the food supply chain is. Only opening part is unlikely to solve the overall issue. Plus, who is in and who is out, who decides and how do they decide?

We cannot pick a few workers who can keep products going to supermarkets if shortages keep arising – that isn’t how it works

“Confusion continues to pervade and I have been advised no list until Monday. This is worse than useless.”

One dairy company executive told PA there are concerns that Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs plans to target 10,000 critical workers will not go far enough.

“We have thousands of workers. The idea of picking a handful of ‘critical workers’ at each huge supplier feels like nonsense,” he said.

“We cannot pick a few workers who can keep products going to supermarkets if shortages keep arising – that isn’t how it works.

“It is also important to stress that there were shortages across the sector before people were pinged and it is important they act to resolve that too.”

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

A director at a major supermarket own-brand supplier also told PA that Government correspondence has been “patchy” and issues still need to be resolved.

He added: “The pingdemic issue is irritating because obviously it will be helpful for the Government to resolve, but it’s shielding longer term problems.

“This system they are talking about to improve isolation is not suddenly going to solve supply chains in a week.”

Supermarket bosses have also criticised the Government’s decision to limit the exemption to suppliers and not many shop floor workers.

Richard Walker, managing director at Iceland, said: “We’re encouraged to hear that supermarket depot workers and food manufacturers will be exempt from Government rules, but deeply disappointed to see supermarket store workers omitted from the list.”

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