Farming News - Prisoners could ease farm labour shortage, Wrekin MP suggests

Prisoners could ease farm labour shortage, Wrekin MP suggests

24 Apr 2020
Frontdesk / Arable

Mark Pritchard, MP for The Wrekin, said he hoped the Government would consider giving prisoners the chance to do paid work on farms.

Mr Pritchard's comments came after several shropshire farmers warned him that crops suchh as strawberries and cabbages may go to waste unless more workers are found.

In recent years the agricultural sector has made use of thousands of migrant workers in the fields, but restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak has prevented that this year.

Environment Secretary George Eustice has backed a national campaign to recruit as many as 90,000 UK-based farm labourers, but many farmers are still reporting a shortage.

Mr Pritchard, who himself worked as a strawberry picker in Herefordshire during his school holidays, told the Shropshire Star that offenders who had been made subject to community punishment orders should also be given the chance to work in the field.

He said "Given the labour shortage in UK agricultural sector, I hope the Government will consider allowing prisoners on early release, community sentences, reaching end of sentences, to get paid work on farms so that crops are picked and supplies maintained," he said.

"Clearly not all ex-offenders would be suitable, but where there are agricultural worker vacancies, some prisoners could volunteer to be given a second chance in the agricultural workplace, meeting a national need and getting into mainstream employment. Employment that many people in wider society just don't want to do."

He said the work should be restricted to prisoners who have been identified as suitable under the Ministry of Justice early release scheme, and also offenders who have been sentenced to do community service as part of a community punishment orders.

PDM Produce near Newport said it had so far received just 91 applications for 300 vacancies. European workers were now being brought in under “strict protocols” to help.

The company said it had no option but to look elsewhere if it was to be “operationally efficient”.

Councillor Dan Morris, who keeps a farm near Shrewsbury, said this week that he was aware of the shortfall in the county.

“If we can’t get the people to help with the harvest, it will end up rotting in the field and getting ploughed in," he said.