Food industry’s ‘Chicken King’ warns of looming Xmas turkey crisis as ‘pingdemic’ and Brexit hit staffing
The food industry tycoon known as the ‘chicken king’ has told Sky News the so-called ‘pingdemic’ staffing crisis is just a small part of unprecedented pressures on supplies, with food shortages already being felt.
Ranjit Singh Boparan, whose interests include the 2 Sisters Food Group (2SFG) and a string of casual dining brands, used an interview with Ian King Live to warn that even the Christmas turkey was under threat because of a wider shortage of skilled workers, such as butchers, in the wake of Brexit.
He explained that government plans to alleviate disruption caused by the pandemic did not go far enough as a limited number of supermarket shelves and freezer sections became bare.
It was announced last Thursday that daily contact testing was to be rolled out to workers in the food supply sector under a wider easing of rules that would allow staff deemed “critical” to be exempt from self-isolation if ‘pinged’ as a close contact by the NHS COVID-19 app.
Mr Boporan told the programme that a “couple of hundred” people at 2SFG were currently in quarantine – describing the situation as “not too bad” but he said there remained a lack of clarity on exemptions from ministers.
He complained that a string of other challenges had created a “perfect storm” for the sector, warning last week of the prospect of the worst food shortages since rationing at the end of World War Two.
Those challenges, he said, included ingredient, energy and wage inflation – all exacerbated by post-Brexit staff shortages including a lack of trained hauliers.
The tycoon, who employs 15,000 staff at 2SFG producing staples such as chicken, pies and biscuits, said his business had been hurt by a lot of people returning to their countries of origin within the EU and a lack of skilled UK workers to replace them.
“If you look at the furlough scheme, you’ve got 2.3 million people on the furlough scheme yet we’re short of people within the food sector”, he said.
“A shortage of drivers is just one one element of the supply chain, a very important element which is being made very public, but if you just times up by 100, that’s the labour shortage that we’re facing in the food industry, not just the poultry industry, the food industry today and is something that we need to address.
“Just look at the supply chain, the supply chain starts from the farm.
“If (we are) short of labour on the farms, we’re not going to get the product. If we manage to get it from the farms to the factories and we are short (of) labour there, we’re not going to get it to the depots.
“If we do manage to get to the depots and they can’t get the staff there, they’re not going to get onto lorries. If we are short of drivers, and they can’t get to the supermarket shelves that’s another problem.
“If you haven’t got the people in the supermarkets to put the product on the shelves… you just think about all the supply chain, you just need one element not to work and at the moment there’s several elements that are not working.”
He said a return to basic food products was also possible because of difficulties sourcing ingredients in time for convenience products such as chicken kievs.
On the prospect of disruption to turkey supplies, he added: “How do you expect a thousand workers to come in to provide turkeys at Christmas. It’s not going to happen.”
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt considering further public spending cut to boost tax giveaway in budget
Jeremy Hunt is considering a last minute further cut to public spending to boost the tax giveaway in Wednesday’s budget.
The Politics At Jack And Sam’s podcast, out now, sets out how Number 10 and 11 have spent recent days finding as many different ways of raising future revenue as possible to increase the size of Wednesday’s tax cuts.
National insurance could be cut by 2p again in the budget if the chancellor succeeds in finding the right mix of revenue-raising measures and spending cuts.
Currently, spending is due to rise 1% above inflation after next year. However, if this was cut to 0.75% above inflation, that would raise £5-6bn.
The chancellor would hope to resist questions about where he would cut, saying he is doing an efficiency drive and decisions would be outlined at a future spending review post election.
The decision on whether to cut future spending was live in the Treasury as recently as Friday, and this morning the chancellor was arguing about the importance of finding efficiencies.
This is likely to boost Labour’s charge that the government is “maxing out the credit card” to keep its own supporters on side.
However, most Tories in government believe this is a necessary trade-off to allow the party to go into the next election presenting themselves as the low-tax party.
Some senior Tories disagree, however, worrying that the public is more worried about the state of public services than tax cuts.
The budget is likely to have cuts or the abolition of non-dom status, which could raise £2-3bn, plus other small loopholes being closed, generating a few hundred million in revenue.
The Politics At Jack And Sam’s Podcast also reveals how delaying Contaminated Blood compensation payouts has helped deliver tax cuts.
In January, the Treasury was worried those payments might reduce the amount the chancellor could spend before he reached the borrowing limits from his fiscal rules.
However, the inquiry will not report until later and the government is resisting calls for interim payouts.
Any tax cuts will need to be ‘undone’ after election, economist claims
Any tax cuts made during this budget will “one way or another be undone after the election”, according to one economist.
Speaking to Sky News, Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, explained that – if it were not an election year – it is unlikely that Chancellor Jeremy Hunt would be looking to trim the tax burden.
Speaking to Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips, Mr Hunt said his budget would be “prudent and responsible” – but added that he wanted to “make some progress” on the “journey” started by the two pence cut to National Insurance announced in the autumn statement six months ago.
The chancellor is facing pressure to cut taxes to try and shift the polls in favour of his own party, which is languishing well behind Labour.
Mr Johnson said: “I think this is going to be a political decision in an election year. If this weren’t an election year, I don’t think we’d be talking about tax cuts at all.”
He added: “If we weren’t looking at an election, I think he would be saying, let’s steady as she goes, let’s see where we are in a year or two.
“But given it is an election, I suspect we will get some tax cuts.
“My guess, though, is that those will, one way or another, be undone after the election.
“The state of public finances, the state of public services, the shortage of money for everything from the health service to local government to social care indicates to me, we’re going to need more money over the next five years rather than less.”
Changes to income tax and National Insurance have been mooted as potential options, as well the government taking Labour’s policy of scrapping the non-dom tax status.
But with the budget itself not due until Wednesday lunchtime, Sky News understands decisions are still being made in Downing Street about what to include.
The tricky financial picture means there has been limited space to make pre-budget announcements.
The tax burden is reaching record levels, with it expected to rise to its highest point since the Second World War before the end of this decade as the country looks to pay back heavy borrowing used for support during COVID-19 and the energy spike in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Mr Hunt has already announced plans for an £800m package of technology reforms which government hopes will free up public sector workers.
Mr Hunt claims that “we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking more spending buys us better public services” – and that the £800m investment will yield £1.8bn in benefits by 2029.
Torsten Bell, the head of the Resolution Foundation, worked in the Treasury as a civil servant before going to work for chancellor Alistair Darling in the financial crisis.
He explained to Sky News why Mr Hunt is having difficulty “rolling the pitch” – preparing the ground for the announcements in the budget.
Mr Bell said: “The reason why the chancellor is finding things quite difficult is two reasons; One is the difficult economic circumstance.
“We’re obviously coming out of a high inflation period, but we’re not seeing a lot of economic growth.
“And then on top of that, we’re in a world where they’re talking about tax cuts, but everybody around the country, everybody watching this knows that, the reality is this is an era of taxes going up.
“So it’s a difficult situation.”
Mr Hunt said he wants to cut taxes as it helps faster growth as seen in North America and Asia.
“But it would be deeply unconservative to cut taxes in a way that increased borrowing that wasn’t fully funded,” the chancellor said.
“If I think of the great tax-cutting budgets of the past – Nigel Lawson’s budget in 1988.
“The reason that was so significant is because those tax cuts were permanent and people need to know that these are tax cuts you can really afford.
“So it will be responsible and everything I do will be affordable.”
Banks placed on alert over ‘rogue’ Companies House filings
Britain’s biggest banks have been placed on alert over hundreds of ‘rogue’ filings which appear to have been lodged at Companies House, the UK’s central corporate register.
Sky News has obtained a note issued by UK Finance, the banking trade association, which warned its members that approximately 800 forms relating to the discharging of financial liabilities were submitted at Companies House late last month.
In the notice to banks – marked as “Urgent” when it was circulated last week – UK Finance said it had alerted both Companies House and the Department for Business and Trade to the issue.
Industry executives pointed to the possibility of an attempted fraud or hacking of the Companies House register, although the circumstances remained unclear on Sunday.
UK Finance said in its memo that a number of members and law firms had “flagged an issue regarding the apparently erroneous satisfaction of security (registered charges) on Companies House relating to a number of live business clients”.
In a further update issued on Friday, it said it had been informed that roughly 800 rogue filings related to 190 companies had been submitted, adding: “Companies House have emphasised that an incorrect entry in the register – saying a charge has been satisfied – does not invalidate or cancel that charge.
“It remains valid and enforceable.
“However, there will likely be other consequences for lenders that will need to be resolved.”
Companies House, which is owned by the government, is responsible for incorporating and limiting millions of limited companies.
One source described the situation as “deeply alarming” and said it was disappointing that Companies House had also outlined plans to increase its fees in May “when it was susceptible to rogue corporate filings in this way”.
Responding to an enquiry from Sky News, a Companies House spokesperson said: “We are aware of this matter and we are looking into it.”
UK Finance declined to comment further.
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