Key worker plans put supply chain at risk

Picture: Becky Stares/Shutterstock

INDUSTRY leaders in Scotland’s food and drink sector have warned that supply chains could be put at risk by the Scottish Government’s approach to designating key workers during the coronavirus crisis.

In Scotland, local authorities will have control over who is designated a key worker – meaning their children can continue to go to school despite closures.

Scottish Government guidelines suggest councils should focus on workers in three categories: health and care workers; wider public sector workers providing emergency support such as police officers and social workers; and “all workers without whom there could be a significant impact on Scotland.” The food and drink supply chain is not mentioned in the guidelines.

A national approach has been taken in England, where staff across the food supply chain are considered key workers.

Both Scotland Food & Drink and FDF Scotland have called for the Scottish Government to mirror the approach taken by the UK Government.

Scotland Food & Drink chief executive James Withers said: “I hoped there would have been a national approach [to key workers], in fact a UK-wide approach to that, but there’s not even a Scotland-wide approach.

“There are real supply chain questions. If you’ve got a haulage firm based in one council, area that needs to pick up product from a plant in another council area, unless both councils are ensuring that supply chain is prioritised we could have a real breakdown.

“A food supply chain that is already under unprecedented pressure over the last few weeks is put at further risk now as a result of this. We need clearer guidance as soon as possible that category three includes food processors and food producers.”

David Thomson, chief executive of FDF Scotland was also critical of handing control over to local authorities.

“The definition should mirror the English definition, which includes those involved in food production, processing, sale and delivery, as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods.”

Thomson added that the sector’s importance should have been made explicit in the Scottish Government’s guidance on key workers.

“FDF Scotland will be taking a lead to push for food and drink to be specifically recognised as being part of the critical national infrastructure.”

In his announcement on key workers, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “Broadly, key workers will be health and care workers directly supporting the Coronavirus response, critical primary and community care, teachers and staff providing childcare; energy suppliers and wider public, private or third sector workers providing emergency or critical welfare, national infrastructure services, or other services without which there would be a significant impact on Scotland.

“Local authorities are best placed to decide on the exact definition based on local needs which will obviously differ in island and rural communities to that in our cities.”