Leadsom ‘hopeful’ more Brits will pick fresh produce

Environment secretary Andrea Leadsom
Environment secretary Andrea Leadsom

Environment secretary says void left by pending migrant restrictions will be filled by British workers.

THE Brits should work as fruit pickers and farm labourers when restrictions are placed on EU immigrant workers, the environment secretary, Andrea Leadsom, has suggested.

Leadsom, who withdrew from the conservative leadership election in July and now heads up Defra, said she hoped more young people would “engage with countryside matters” and choose jobs in food production.

At an event during the Tory party conference in Birmingham, Leadsom was challenged on how the food and farming sector would be affected by potential migrant restrictions, the Independent reported.

Asked whether it was possible for Britons to do the seasonal labour jobs currently performed by migrant workers, she responded: “Of course it is. That is a whole different issue.

“We could get British people doing those jobs and that tempts me to stray into the whole issue of why wages aren’t higher and so on. My absolute hope is that with more apprenticeships, with more young people being encouraged to engage with countryside matters, that actually the concept of a career in food production is going to be much more appealing going forward.”

At present fresh produce recruitment firm Hops sources the overwhelming majority of its seasonal workers from within the EU, but has virtually no British pickers to speak of.

Migrant fruit pickers
Migrant fruit pickers

“There’s no appetite in the UK workforce to pick fruit and veg,” said the company’s director John Hardman. Hops tried to encourage more British workers to join the industry through a welfare-to-work scheme with the Department for Work and Pensions almost three years ago, but this had “very limited success” and was “of massive cost to the UK taxpayer,”