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Supermarket Supply Chains

Volume 676: debated on Tuesday 19 May 2020

We have worked closely with retailers and suppliers to ensure the security of supply chains, while also protecting staff safety. I would like to put on record again my thanks to the sector for demonstrating such resilience and flexibility in the face of the crisis. Staff have worked around the clock to ensure that people have the food they need. To support industry, we have introduced temporary measures, including temporary relaxations to competition law, and extended delivery hour regulations, and we have published guidance to help to ensure that workplaces and retail spaces are as safe as possible.

To support the resilience of the supermarkets and food shops on which my constituents in Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner depend, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that people who work in food supply and food retail are able to access priority testing for covid-19, so that they can get back to work?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that all essential workers, including all those involved in the food supply chain, are eligible for testing. We are working with the food sector to ensure that employees who are either self-isolating with symptoms of the coronavirus or who have a symptomatic household member are able to access those tests. Eligible workers who are self-isolating can apply for a test directly online or can be referred for a test by their employer.

The resilience of the food supply chains has been impressive, and we thank all those who work on our farms and in processing factories and the pickers, delivery drivers and, of course, shop workers who have kept the food flowing to our supermarkets. The foolish dismantling of the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, now made worse by the covid crisis, means that we face an alarming shortfall in the 70,000 experienced people needed to pick our crops. The laudable “Pick for Britain” campaign may help, but it was reported only a few weeks ago that of the 50,000 applicants, only 112 had made it into the field. Can the Secretary of State tell us what those figures are today and what is his plan B?

We estimate that only about a third of the east European workforce who would usually come to work on our farms are here or have continued to come. That means that we will need a British workforce to step up and assist in getting the harvest in this year, and we are very encouraged by the results so far. The hon. Gentleman is right that a few weeks ago, when it was early in the season, there were not many jobs. But we are now approaching the peak season in June, and employers are starting to recruit more and more British workers. For instance, G’s salads currently has more than 400 British people working on its farms today