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News article

23 March 2020

COVID-19: Food and drink businesses asked to reduce staffing to 'bare essentials'

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Call for national guidance to secure food supply

Joint statement from industry bodies; Scotland Food & Drink, FDF Scotland, Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS), National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS), Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO), Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), Seafood Scotland, Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), Scottish Fishermen's Federation, Scottish Seafood Association, Scottish Association Meat Wholesalers (SAMW), Dairy UK, Agricultural Industries Confederation Scotland (AIC Scotland) and Scottish Bakers.

In response to the closure of Scotland's schools and current social distancing advice, Scotland's leading farming, fishing, food and drink organisations are urging businesses to follow some critical steps to reduce staffing to the bare essentials required to secure Scotland's food supply.

At the same time, they are calling on the Scottish Government to provide greater clarity to Scotland's 32 local authorities on who they should define as key workers, to support the supply of food across the country.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, national advice has been issued defining key workers as including those involved in the production, delivery and sale of food. However, in Scotland, no such advice has been issued and it is being left to 32 local authorities to make a case by case decision on individual businesses and groups of workers.

Despite enormous pressure, the food supply chain is keeping products moving across the country. Issuing further guidance to councils, in line with the rest of the UK on food supply, will support that effort.

Food and drink businesses are asked to do the following, if they have not done so already:

  • Reduce staffing levels to the lowest possible number required to maintain the production of essential goods
  • DO NOT contact your local authority to make the case for key worker designation unless it is the measure of last resort. All other measures must be explored first (e.g. shift changes, halting some production lines, alternative childcare arrangements)
  • If you do contact your local authority, only seek designation for “business critical” roles.

All the industry organisations recognise the vital importance of keeping the definition of key workers incredibly narrow. The numbers of children attending schools must be kept as low as possible. In addition, prioritisation should clearly be for category 1 key workers, such as those saving lives in our NHS.

Against that background though, the industry organisations have also stressed the importance of ensuring the ongoing supply of food and drink into key public services and retailers. At present, some local authorities have recognised the priority of food supply under category 2 of the key worker designation. That is welcome. However, many have not.

Food and drink products cross council boundaries when going from where they are produced, to where they are processed, to where they are sold. An inconsistent approach and a lack of support for councils in defining key workers, could add further strain to a food supply chain already under enormous pressure.

All the organisations recognise the huge efforts of Ministers in the face of issues of incredible complexity and gravity. It is hugely challenging to strike a balance between protecting public health and maintaining essential services, with very difficult decisions required. We commit to do all we can to support that effort, to take tough decisions ourselves. We will be working further in the coming hours and days to help define specific roles with food and drink production. That way, the essential balance between public health and ongoing food supply can be found.

More Information

Contact Kirsty Ritchie, Food and Drink Federation Scotland, at: kirsty.ritchie@fdfscotland.org.uk, or 0131 222 8040.

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