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Politics

Retailers’ no deal reality check

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THE HEADS of the UK’s major food retailers, including McDonald’s, M & S and Asda, have written to MPs and dramatically spelt out their view of the risks of leaving the EU without an agreement.

The warning comes shortly after the revelation that Britain has begun stockpiling food, fuel, spare parts and ammunition at military bases in Gibraltar, Cyprus and the Falklands in case of a no-deal Brexit.

With all contingency plans routinely labelled ‘Project Fear’ by those Brexiters stuck on transmit instead of receive, the retailers have taken a significant risk in sticking their collective head above the parapet by trying to address a substantial issue which is rather glossed by those proclaiming the benefits and underplaying the downside of a crash out Brexit.

The letter is backed by the British Retail Consortium, which represents over 70% of Britain’s retailers by turnover.

The Government said that it was taking special measures to minimise the impact of a no-deal Brexit on supermarkets’ suppliers and insisted that food was not going to run out as a result.

“The government has well-established ways of working with the food industry to prevent disruption and we are using these to support preparations for leaving the European Union.”

The Food and Drink Federation, which represents thousands of food processors and manufacturers, has said a no-deal Brexit would be a “catastrophe”, with uncertainty undermining investment and constraining businesses’ ability to plan and export.

DEAL OR NO DEAL: THE LETTER

On behalf of our businesses and the wider food industry, we want to highlight to you the challenges for retailers and the consequences for millions of UK consumers of leaving the European Union without a deal at the end of March. While we have been working closely with our suppliers on contingency plans it is not possible to mitigate all the risks to our supply chains and we fear significant disruption in the short term as a result if there is no Brexit deal. We wanted to share with you some practical examples of the challenges we are facing.

Our supply chains are closely linked to Europe – nearly one-third of the food we eat in the UK comes from the EU. In March the situation is more acute as UK produce is out of season: 90% of our lettuces, 80% of our tomatoes and 70% of our soft fruit are sourced from the EU at that time of year. As this produce is fresh and perishable, it needs to be moved quickly from farms to our stores.
This complex, ‘just in time’ supply chain will be significantly disrupted in the event of no deal. Even if the UK government does not undertake checks on products at the border, there will still be major disruption at Calais as the French government has said it will enforce sanitary and customs checks on exports from the EU, which will lead to long delays; Government data suggest freight trade between Calais and Dover may reduce by 87% against current levels as a result. For consumers, this will reduce the availability and shelf life of many products in our stores.

We are also extremely concerned about the impact of tariffs. Only around 10% of our food imports, a fraction of the products we sell, is currently subject to tariffs so if the UK were to revert to WTO Most Favoured Nation status, as currently envisaged in the no-deal scenario, it would greatly increase import costs, which could in turn put upward pressure on food prices. The UK could set import tariffs at zero but that would have a devastating impact on our own farmers, a key part of our supply chains.

Our ability to mitigate these risks is limited. As prudent businesses we are stockpiling where possible, but all frozen and chilled storage is already being used and there is very little general warehousing space available in the UK. Even if there were more space it is impossible to stockpile fresh produce, such as salad leaves and fresh fruit. Retailers typically store no more than two weeks’ inventory and it becomes difficult to restock stores if the supply chain is disrupted. We are also attempting to find alternative supply routes but there are limited options and not enough ferries, so this could only replace a fraction of the current capacity.

We are extremely concerned that our customers will be among the first to experience the realities of a no deal Brexit. We anticipate significant risks to maintaining the choice, quality and durability of food that our customers have come to expect in our stores, and there will be inevitable pressure on food prices from higher transport costs, currency devaluation and tariffs.

We are therefore asking you to work with your colleagues in Parliament urgently to find a solution that avoids the shock of a no deal Brexit on 29 March and removes these risks for UK consumers.

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Chancellors economic update includes VAT cut for hospitality sector, and customer discounts

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The Chancellor had set out his coronavirus recovery package today.

Rishi Sunak set out the measures in his summer economic update in the House of Commons on Wednesday (Jun 8), as he faces pressure to assist those who are most vulnerable to the financial crisis.

The Chancellor said he will cut VAT from 20% to 5% for food if people eat out to help those businesses which he said had been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The chancellor announced discount to encourage people to eat out in August.

He says restaurants, pubs, bars and hotels as well as other attractions will be able to claim the money back within five days. It had been reported he was considering giving all UK adults a £500 voucher to spent with companies hit by coronavirus, but the Chancellor has decided not to go ahead with that proposal.

Instead Sunak announced a discount worth up to £10 per head for eating out in August. He said his final measure has never been tried in this country. It is an “eat out to help out scheme”, offering customers as discount worth up to £10 per head when they eat out from Monday to Wednesday in August.

Speaking in the Commons today, he said: “Our plan has clear goals, to protect, support and retain jobs.”

Regards furlough scheme, he said it must wind down, adding: “flexibly and gradually supporting people through to October” but that he is introducing a bonus for employers who bring staff back from furlough.

Employers who bring someone back from furlough and employ them through to January, paying them a minimum of £520 a month, will receive a £1,000 bonus.

He says that “in total we have provided £49bn to support public services since the pandemic began”.

He added: “No nationalist can ignore that this help has only been possible because we are a United Kingdom.”

Mr Sunak says the UK economy has already shrunk by 25% – the same amount it grew in the previous 18 years.

He also announced:

A £2bn kickstart scheme paying employers to take on unemployed 16 to 24 year olds for a minimum of 25 hours a week – he says the Treasury will pay those wages for six months plus a sum for overheads. He says there is no cap. This will apply in England and Wales.

VAT on food from restaurants, cafes, pubs and hotels will be cut until January 12 from 20% to 5%
Funding for apprenticeships and traineeships in England, there will be a separate announcement for Wales.

£1bn for the DWP to support millions of people back to work through Job Centres. A £2bn green homes grant in England to cover two thirds of the cost, up to £5,000, for energy efficient home improvements. Again the Welsh Government will have their own proposals on this given time.

A temporary cut to stamp duty in England and Northern Ireland.

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Politics

Diverse voices but unity of purpose – a sustainable future for food production in Ceredigion.

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Cardigan XR have been delighted by the reception to the People’s Assembly held on line on Tuesday 23rd and attended by over 150 people. It has led to a surge of positive feedback from people who would seldom be in the same meeting; retired and busy farmers, ecologists, smallholders, politicians, horticulturalists, food advisors and vendors. Topics were diverse, but all centered on the importance of agriculture and land use in its widest sense and how the current system might be made more sustainable in Ceredigion. Attendees listened to introductions from Elin Jones MS and from XR Aberteifi who co-hosted the event, followed by short talks from the NFU, FUW, an ecologist, organic horticulturalists, the RSPB, Welsh food representatives, water and flooding, and Ben Lake MP.

For many, the People’s Assembly was their first experience of Deliberative Democracy. They welcomed the opportunity to listen to experts and then form into small groups so that the opinions of each individual could be listened to. The 17 groups discussed: ‘What might a sustainable farming system in Ceredigion look like? how might we get there?’ They noted their detailed answers and chose their main points to report back to the main meeting. There were many recommendations covering a very diverse field; education through to easier entry into farming. The results are still being brought together but will be made available shortly. It is planned that the results will be sent to all participants, Councillors, Members of the Senedd and anyone else who wishes to see them. ” This is what open democracy is about. Now we need to build on it to make real and lasting change for a sustainable future. Similar assemblies can help us to build consensus in our urgent need to find a way forward to halt dangerous climate change.” said Sarah Wright, co-host from Extinction Rebellion.

Many attendees expressed their feeling that this was just the beginning of the journey and that there is a need to keep the doors open to positive discussion. Clearly there is a lot more to be said and many attendees elected to stay on and keep talking after the official Assembly ended.

Elin Jones MS said
If we’d organised a public meeting to discuss sustainable agri in a village hall somewhere between Llanon and Llanarth then we’d never have got 150+ all in one place, with great speakers, breakout to small groups and all over in 2hrs. But it happened tonight on Zoom in Ceredigion.

A constructive meeting with diverse voices but unity of purpose – a sustainable future for food production in Ceredigion.

Start of a very useful discussion. Start of a great conversation. And action.
Diolch i’r trefnwyr, XR Aberteifi, i’r NFU, FUW, CFfI, Ben Lake, cynghorwyr, ffermwyr, cynhyrchwyr, gwerthwyr, a phawb. Cychwyn trafodaeth fuddiol iawn.

If you would like an emailed copy of the many ideas from the People’s Assembly, please contact Cardigan Extinction Rebellion on cardigan@xrcymru.org

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Politics

Joyce calls for action on illegal scallop dredging

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Local MS Joyce Watson is calling for increased monitoring and enforcement to tackle illegal fishing activities around the Welsh coastline.

The Marine Conservation Society confirmed reports of people exploiting the lockdown period through a range of illegal activities. Due to the challenge of social distancing on boats, the normal monitoring of the coastline has been restricted during recent months.

Mrs Watson, who has campaigned over this issue over many years, raised this issue at the Senedd Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs (CCERA) Committee (25 June 2020).

Speaking later, Mid and West Wales Member of the Senedd Joyce Watson MS said:

“I was disgusted to hear that as many as 30 scallop dredgers have been spotted, potentially within marine protected areas.

“This could do untold damage to our marine environment. It can take up to 15 years to recover from just one trawl by scallop dredgers in marine protected areas.

“This behaviour also damages the local fishing economy. It is particularly unfair on those who play by the rules at such a challenging time.

“Unfortunately because of a lack of direct on-the-water evidence, prosecutions may be difficult in these cases.

“Therefore I plan to call for a return to effective monitoring and enforcement as soon as is possible.”

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