Future PM must do more to support UK food and drink, FDF CEO tells Tory leadership candidates

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AUTHOR: Molly Long
No.10 Downing Street

Karen Betts, the CEO of the Food and Drink Federation, has written to the remaining candidates in the Conservative leadership election, urging them to better support the country’s food and drink industries.

As of this week, there are five Tory MPs still in the running to become the next leader of their party, and thus take up the mantle of Prime Minister of the UK. They are: Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt, Tom Tugendhat and Kemi Badenoch [Update: as of 20 July the last two remaining candidates in the run to become the next PM are Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak].

As the five attempt to win votes from MPs and eventually Tory party members, Betts’ letter aims to bring attention to how the Government can better support the food and drink sectors.

In particular, Betts has asked the candidates to look at labour shortages, taxation, and regulation. She said adequate support in these fields could help to alleviate the cost-of-living crisis.

“As the biggest UK manufacturing sector, we feel it is important that prospective candidates get an overview of the issues facing our industry and policies we feel can combat the cost-of-living crisis, helping tackle the unprecedented rise in costs for both businesses and consumers,” she says.

Betts letter first addresses the problem of labour shortages. “A shortage of labour and skills is one of the drivers of food price inflation,” she writes. “We need government support both in finding a short-term ‘bridge’ and in working with us to devise medium to longer term solutions that secure a future pipeline of skilled labour into our critical sector.”

One such short-term fix could be to help companies boost their productivity through means like digital transformations, automation and advancing tech. There are plenty of ways for Government to incentivise this, Betts says. One good way forward could be to launch a fund which companies can bid into competitively.

Taxation is another area Betts wants candidates to focus on. “Creating an environment that incentivises businesses to invest in productivity, future growth and the transition to green energy is essential to businesses in our sector and to their competitiveness,” she states.

Betts says this can be done through a thorough look at VAT, business rates, the reform of R&D tax credits and the Apprenticeship Levy – the Government must ensure these taxes “work for businesses of all sizes”.

The letter also focuses on reducing the costs of regulation. While Brexit was billed as a means to make self-governance more accessible for the country and its business, the CEO said this has so far not materialised.

A good deal of current regulation is actually imposing new costs on our industry without a clear benefit in return,” she says, giving the example of the current Government plans for circular economy packaging. These plans, according to Betts, are “overly complex and have been poorly consulted on with business” and as such, risk forcing more costs onto hard-pressed shoppers.

Finally, Betts says any future PM must redouble their efforts to maintain a functioning UK internal market. “If our sector cannot operate seamlessly across the UK because of divergent regulatory regimes across the UK’s four nations, our costs will go up.”

Signing off, Karen Betts adds that the FDF would be happy to provide further details on the issue mentioned and would welcome the chance to discuss them further.  

Labour shortages remain one of the biggest issues facing the food industry. This Food Matters Live podcast explores how the problem might be fixed:

How can the UK food sector solve its labour shortage?

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