RICHARD WALKER: I voted Leave but why isn't Boris Johnson listening?

RICHARD WALKER: I voted Leave but why isn't Boris Johnson listening?

October 6, 2021

Managing director of Iceland RICHARD WALKER: I voted Leave — but why on earth isn’t Boris Johnson listening to business?

There’s an alternative to setting Government and business in opposition to each other – we should be working together, says Iceland managing director Richard Walker (pictured)

This was the week that Boris Johnson discovered his inner Margaret Thatcher, declaring to the Tory party conference that ‘there is no alternative’ other than Britain becoming a high-wage, higher productivity economy – with the tap of low-paid immigration turned off.

I find it hard to disagree with him on the destination. But he needs to have a serious discussion with the nation’s businesses about how we are going to get there.

So here’s my message to the Prime Minister. Maybe there’s an alternative to setting Government and business in opposition to each other. Instead, we should be working together.

Brexit and Covid have combined to create labour shortages and supply chain snarl-ups that are causing gaps on shelves and queues at petrol stations. 

While I accept it isn’t the Prime Minister’s job to, as he put it, ‘fix every problem in business’, the Government has a responsibility to listen to industry leaders and work with us to find solutions to the challenges we and the country are facing.

We’re not all frustrated Remainers trying to undermine the benefits of Brexit. I voted Leave to take back control of the UK’s immigration policy, trade deals and environmental policies in the firm belief all could be improved from outside the EU.

At no point did I imagine that the UK could cope in the long term without sensibly controlled immigration from around the world – not just the EU – to fill structural shortages of labour in key sectors.

How can it be sensible to persist with an immigration policy that prioritises ballerinas but turns away the HGV drivers we need now – and who were needed six months ago when we first started raising the issue?

I and other business leaders have been lobbying the Government for months to warn of looming labour shortages: I for one have never received a reply. These shortages have now caught up with everyone.

If Government had engaged with business we could have headed off these problems before the country came close to grinding to a halt. 

I and other business leaders have been lobbying the Government for months to warn of looming labour shortages: I for one have never received a reply. Pictured: Boris Johnson

How can it be sensible to persist with an immigration policy that prioritises ballerinas but turns away the HGV drivers we need now (file photo)

Where ministers have shown a willingness to act, the solutions have all too often been short-term and expensive.

Eventually, higher energy costs and the other pressures of transitioning to the high-wage economy are going to feed through into rising prices for consumers – just as they face a £20-a-week cut to Universal Credit and increases in national insurance.

This is not going to win the Government new friends in the Red Wall – or anywhere else. The Prime Minister and I have had differences in opinion. 

But this week he said he hoped that me and my colleagues at Iceland ‘would do fantastic things to get food on the shelves’ for Christmas.

I’m confident we will. We have freezer space aplenty for turkeys and other festive treats – which are already on sale in our stores. 

But we need to find a way to keep all firms just as well-stocked – and for that, the Government must start working properly with business.

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