Supply chain issues start to bite for the region’s food businesses

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More help is needed for businesses struggling with supply chain challenges if consumers are not going to face long-term rising food costs and limited availability.

That’s the message from Bridge Cheese managing director Michael Harte who says the Government is “passing the buck” and needs to do more to support food and drink producers and processors.

In yesterday’s budget announcement, chancellor Rishi Sunak mentioned the supply chain crisis in his opening address and warned of months of disruption as the problem would take months to ease.

Yet, his Autumn budget statement made no real commitments to resolving the crisis in the short term.

Mr Harte says his Telford-based business, which supplies cheese and dairy products to food manufacturers and the food service sector, is facing yet more upheaval in the weeks and months ahead as supply chain challenges begin to bite.

“A huge amount of work goes into plugging the dam in the food industry before shortages and price increases impact consumers,” said Michael. “But the challenges are becoming so big now that consumers are being impacted, and we are seeing this reflected in the rising cost of food, reduced menu choices and even limited opening times for some eateries.

“With energy prices on the up and the availability of goods and labour proving problematic and adding yet more fuel to the fire, it means that in the short term we as consumers will have to get accustomed to the empty shelves and reduced choice.”

At the Conservative party conference earlier this month, the Prime Minister suggested that the blame for supply chain issues should be laid at the feet of UK industry – comments that Michael says are unfounded.

He added: “The Government is saying it’s not their job to fix the issues, but when they have played a part in creating the issues then it is frustrating for the buck to be passed back to businesses who are already embattled by the problems caused by Covid and Brexit.

“We need a more robust food chain strategy and we need to see the Government and British industry working together in partnership to solve the supply chain problems – not being at odds with each other. But this appears to be the position we find ourselves in today.”

Michael also believes that the Government’s narrative around low pay and low skills being to blame is also misleading.

“SMEs are often lauded as being the backbone of Britain’s economy, but in today’s world big businesses are offering signing on payments and lucrative bonuses which attract more staff from smaller employers, thereby moving the labour shortage to another part of the supply chain. The labour pool is simply not there to meet the demand across all levels.”

Bridge Cheese is working hard to reduce the impact to the company of the kind of labour shortages seen in other sectors. The rapidly expanding cheese company has a dedicated full-time team working solely on recruitment, retention and development to ensure Bridge Cheese attracts and retains good people at all levels, from apprentices and students to graduates and those looking to make a career for themselves in the food industry.

“We are investing in everything from improved staff facilities to a new travel support payment scheme to help employees with the cost of getting to and from work,” added Michael. “We couldn’t run our business without them, so unlike many of the challenges we are facing at the moment, strengthening our workforce and ensuring they feel valued is one thing that is in our hands.”

“It has been a challenging few months and I wish we were coming to the end of it, but I fear we aren’t. The focus now has to be on creating a resilient and robust food supply chain which meets demand in the short term and long term, in a sustainable way that works for all parties.”

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