A Scottish seafood processing firm, which supplies fish to the Queen, says it is losing business because of labour shortages blamed on Brexit.
Christopher Leigh, chief executive at John Ross Jr, an Aberdeen-based traditional smoked salmon producer, claims the current workforce crisis “cannot be overcome without intervention from government”.
Since Brexit, the firm has struggled to attract the staff required to fulfil international orders, with many EU nationals choosing to return to mainland Europe.
Mr Leigh now wants the UK Government to help businesses meet the challenge of finding workers.
Bosses at the award-winning firm previously accused the UK Government of “gross incompetence” in a row over post-Brexit exports of Scottish seafood.
The UK needs a labour force and it needs it now.
– Christopher Leigh
He says: “We raised the issue of a staffing crisis prior to the global pandemic.
“The response we received at the time from the Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack, who suggested our concerns stemmed solely from a fear of having to pay our employees more, was disappointing.”
He continued: “We are now in a situation whereby we’re having to turn away business as a result of our inability to meet demand and I know that John Ross isn’t the only business facing this challenge.”
He says government support for export has “never been so high” which makes it “easier for companies to distribute their products overseas”.
However, the firm’s boss adds this does little good “if companies such as ours cannot attract the staff required to fulfil international orders”.
Mr Leigh claims this is “being compounded” by global firms such as Amazon, who recently announced it was offering new warehouse workers a £1,000 joining bonus in a bid to attract new recruits.
He adds: “We’ve been in business for almost 40 years and have seen our fair share of crises, all of which we’ve dealt with head on and managed ourselves.
“However, this crisis is very different and one that cannot be overcome without intervention from government.
“The UK needs a labour force and it needs it now. We urge the government to take action before it’s too late.”
‘Damaging legacy of Brexit’
Audrey Nicoll, MSP for Aberdeen South and North Kincardine, who met the salmon producer last month, wants the UK Government to take action on skills and labour shortages caused by Brexit.
The SNP politician says “several” businesses told her they are facing “significant labour shortages including the hiring of drivers, problems caused by the fuel crisis, and uncertainty with their supply chains primarily as a result of a lack of HGV drivers”.
Staff shortages are hitting the haulage, farming and hospitality sectors, and businesses blame the pandemic and Brexit for the lack of overseas workers.
Ms Nicoll adds: “This is the damaging legacy of Brexit, laid bare for all to see.
“The Scottish Government put a wide range of support in place to support local businesses pre and post pandemic, however in tackling this pressing issue, Scotland remains at the mercy of Boris Johnson’s Tories.”
Last year, the Home Office launched a £3 million awareness campaign for UK employers, informing them that freedom of movement was ending and that they may need to take steps to adapt their recruitment practices.
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “The British people repeatedly voted to end free movement and take back control of our immigration system and employers should invest in our domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad.
“Our Plan for Jobs is helping people across the country retrain, build new skills and get back into work.”