SCOTLAND'S Rural Affairs Secretary has accused her UK counterpart of an “apparent lack of interest” in the food and drink sector’s labour shortages.

Mairi Gougeon has urged UK Government ministers to work collaboratively to solve the issue facing the sector, citing migration policy as a hindrance to recruitment.

In a letter to her Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Steve Barclay, the Scottish Government minister states she is “confounded” by the lack of “substantive” responses received to previous letters to UK ministers.

She wrote: “The only conclusion that I can draw reasonably from this, is an apparent lack of interest on the part of the UK Government about this very significant issue and which is of great importance to the sector.”

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Gougeon said the post-Brexit loss of EU nationals has led to “significant and immediate gaps in labour” which cannot be quickly replaced.

She also criticised the UK Government’s proposals to extend the “not for EU” labelling requirements on meat and dairy products.

“These seem arbitrary and are likely to have a disproportionate impact on industry,” she said.

“This is also at a time when further red tape, from import controls, are pending with checks ramping up in April and beyond and consumers are already bearing the burden of added food costs.

“All of this points to UK policies that continue to be made without due consideration of economic impacts on, or meaningful consultation with the industries most affected by it.”

The National: Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi GougeonRural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon (Image: web)

She added: “Rather than my having to resort yet again to another letter about all of these issues, it would be best for us to meet to discuss how we can work together effectively to try to make some headway to support the sector.”

She urged Barclay to “reverse the trend” of poor UK Government representation.

A UK Government spokesperson said: “Enabling an innovative, productive, and competitive food and farming industry which invests in its people and skills to drive growth is a key priority for the Government.

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“We will be shortly setting our response to the independent review into tackling labour shortages, outlining how we will continue to support the sector to access the labour it needs, including our work on automation and promoting domestic labour procurement and training.

“However, we are not complacent about the challenges facing the industry and support is needed now – which is why we guaranteed last May that there would be 45,000 seasonal worker visas available for the horticulture sector and a further 2,000 for the poultry sector in 2024, which can help Scottish farmers in bringing home the harvest, as well as injecting £220 million into future future-focused technology and productivity schemes.”