On Monday 14 March, the Industry and Parliament Trust (IPT) hosted a dinner discussion between parliamentarians, industry representatives, and academics entitled ‘Building Resilient Food Supply Chains’. The discussion was chaired by Daniel Zeichner MP, Shadow Minister for Food, Farming, and Rural Affairs. It welcomed guest speakers Kerren Rushton Ratcliffe, Associate Director, Logistics, Coca-Cola and Dr Ade Oyedijo, Lecturer in Operations and Supply Chain Management, University of Leicester School of Business, University of Leicester.
The significance of resilience in the UK’s food supply chain
The issue of food supply is significant in the UK considering that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed food system's vulnerabilities, particularly insufficient capacity in domestic food production and labour challenges. As a result, there is a need for policy reappraisal which will expose governance gaps in food policy and increase the prospects of adopting new governance structures. Previous policies and guidance presented to policymakers have been ‘‘reactive’’ rather than ‘‘proactive’’ in nature. Since food supply chains employ over 4 million people and generates about £121 billion of added value for the economy each year, this topic is worth paying attention to.
Ensuring the UK has the workforce required to ensure consistent supply
Addressing the issue of consistent supply through workforce can be approached from two perspectives: supply chain and government, and it will require a collaborative effort from all parties in the food supply chain. Policymakers and government agencies such as the Food and Rural Affairs, Department of Transport, Food Standards Agency, Home Office, Department for Education, can play a unique role. However, before focusing on how to ensure a consistent supply, it is critical to conduct a root-cause analysis that will provide a comprehensive picture of the current issues.
Some known issues include: the post-Brexit repercussions (e.g. forcing around 25,000 truckers to return to the EU), poor working conditions (e.g., low incentives/wages; unattractive nature of the job; general poor treatment of workers across the chain), ageing workforce (e.g., age 45s account for 62 per cent of the truck drivers), excessive reliance on seasonal and foreign labour (e.g., over 70,000 seasonal agricultural workers enter the UK every year to harvest crops), and so on.
Some possible solutions include: implementing long-term reforms (e.g., using CAO similar to the Netherlands), a diverse future: (e.g., why not encourage women since only 2% of truck drivers globally are women), dedicated investment from government (e.g., safe and secure truck parking areas; systems for safer long-haul driver conditions), increase in training and development: (e.g., facilitating and incentivising HGV training), appraisal of migrant worker recruitment: (e.g., introduction of long-term interventions towards work permits), easing cross-sector job transition: (e.g., easier and quicker pathways for work transition and career switch), Education (e.g., partnering with Higher Education institutions and Professional bodies in the field such as CILT and CIPS toward training and certification of transiting workers from other sectors), investment in logistics start-ups: (e.g., leveraging new technologies and capabilities developed by innovative logistics start-ups), investing in technology and autonomous vehicles: (e.g., this could be a positive double edged tool as it could tackle environmental sustainability issues as well as the consistent workforce problem by supporting the UK’s logistics infrastructure).
How to make supply chains more resilient to future system shocks
Disasters are unavoidable in the supply chain, especially now that many supply chains are dispersed due to the proliferation of globalisation. The following solutions are recommended: nearshoring: (e.g., beyond multi-sourcing, it may be worth reducing geographic dependence in their global networks and shorten cycle times), multi-sourcing and diversification: (e.g., knowing supplier networks in detail; categorizing suppliers using different criteria), ‘‘Just-in-time’’ and ‘‘just-in-case’’ (e.g., due to high uncertainty in the market, creating room backup inventory serving as critical buffers), supply chain 4.0 technologies: (e.g., digital transformation and modern supply chain technologies such as Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, and the use of robots), chain visibility and mapping: (e.g., seeing through the entire supply network), a partnership approach: (e.g., collaboration and coordination between all supply chain partners by collectively sharing information, joint relationship working, and having dedicated investments).
Overall, food supply chain partners in the UK are encouraged to think about these approaches, especially collaboration, which could be an antecedent to supply chain resilience. These solutions will also necessitate a significant amount of government attention and investment.
Words by Dr Ade Oyedijo, Lecturer in Operations and Supply Chain Management, University of Leicester School of Business, University of Leicester