Boris Johnson’s ‘high wage’ vision blasted as ‘economically illiterate’ by industry

‘Shortages cannot be blustered away’ said trade bodies and unions in reaction to conference speech

Holly Bancroft
Wednesday 06 October 2021 19:01 BST
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Boris Johnson’s conference vision for a “high wage economic revival” in the wake of supply chain chaos has been condemned as “economically illiterate” by think tanks and trade organisations.

Addressing the Conservative party faithful in Manchester on Wednesday, Mr Johnson said he wanted to stop businesses reaching for the “same old lever of uncontrolled immigration” and attacked them for failing to invest in UK workers.

But trade bodies said that the Prime Minister had misunderstood the key issues and one think tank accused him of using “dogwhistle” rhetoric about migrants.

Despite not addressing ongoing problems with petrol shortages, Mr Johnston did point the finger at hauliers for failing “to invest in people, in skills and in the equipment”. He highlighted the lack of truck stops causing HGV drivers “to urinate in the bushes”.

Paul Mummery, a spokesperson from the Road Haulage Association, said the government had a responsibility to step in to improve these conditions. He said: “The PM is basically blaming the road transport industry for these spartan conditions. That’s not down to the industry.

“There’s a reason why there are few decent safe parking spaces for truckers - local authorities don’t want them in their area. Lorry firms don’t build truck stops so he is absolutely wrong to be blaming us for the lack of facilities.”

The free market think tank, the Adam Smith Institute, condemned the speech as “vacuous and economically illiterate”, saying: “Shortages and rising prices simply cannot be blustered away with rhetoric about migrants.

“It’s reprehensible and wrong to claim that migrants make us poorer... This dogwhistle shows that this Government doesn’t care about pursuing evidence-based policies.”

Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, said that the sector needed time to respond to the lack of EU workers and some “breathing space” to encourage investment in automation.

He said: “Over the last twenty years, we’ve been fortunate enough to use non-UK labour in order to grow the sector.

“We ran out of UK labour in the areas in which we operate. Non-UK workers have allowed the poultry sector to grow. This has been good for continued growth. This isn’t a case of cheap labour.”

The government has promised 5,500 emergency visas for the poultry sector to get turkeys ready for Christmas, but the scheme is not live so EU workers are not yet able to apply.

Thatcherite think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, warned that the Prime Minister’s strategy “to make things more expensive will not create a genuinely high wage economy, merely the illusion of one.”

The Confederation of British Industry said that Mr Johnson’s words needed to be “backed up by action on skills, on investment and on productivity.”

Trade union head, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, said Mr Johnson should not be “slashing universal credit in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis” if he was serious about “levelling up” the country.

The speech comes as farmers begin to cull hundreds of pigs because there aren’t enough people to process them.

Nick Allen, from the British Meat Processors Association, warned on Wednesday that British meat would soon become a niche product that only the wealthiest in the country could afford.

Mr Allen said that retailers have started to abandon British farmers and begun import cheaper European pork. He said: “We would love to be in the situation to pay more and train more people and actually we would like the time to have a really good shot at that. We’re not against that, but it takes eighteen months to train butchers... you can’t just haul people off the street and expect them to do these jobs, and we are not self-sufficient in food.”

He added: “British production will become a niche product that the wealthier in the country can afford and most of the food will be imported cheap food.”

Tesco CEO, Ken Murphy, said on Wednesday that the supermarket had ordered ten percent more turkeys this year to mitigate any problems. It is turning to Spanish farmers to supply British consumers with their Christmas food, increasing the number of rail containers of fresh produce from the country from 65,000 to 90,000 by the end of the year.

Mr Murphy told reporters: “We have planned to within an inch of our lives how much we will have coming through, and how we are going to make sure we have the right number of drivers in the right place to move it.”

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