Reacting to the Chancellor’s announcement today on funding for new T-levels, James Clark, Director of Policy and Communications at the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA), highlighted the role UK horticulture plays in ‘greening the economy’ and tackling climate change, but warned that the time taken to get sector-specific T-levels up and running, the ‘mixed bag’ of changes to business taxes and uncertainties of seasonal labour availability for next year, was acting against the ‘green growth’ opportunities the sector provides:
“The UK horticulture sector is the ‘original green economy’ – we can grow to being a £42bn-worth industry by 2030. That includes creating new and exciting jobs. The Chancellor’s emphasis on ‘upskilling’ the workforce is welcome but does not go far enough for our sector, which is struggling to fill vacancies across the board.
“We’re being prevented from unlocking this growth potential by a skills gap and lack of labour. T-levels are one opportunity to address this issue, but they don’t overcome a fundamental lack of college courses in the skills we need as a sector, not to mention that the relevant T-level subjects for our industry don’t come online until 2023.
“We also need urgent action from the government on seasonal labour rules for next year – we’re calling for the Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme to continue and a very simple measure of including ornamental horticulture in the existing numbers, supported by an extension of three months to the current visa system. This will cover the Spring and Autumn ‘shoulders’ of the season when plants are picked in fields and trees produced. If not, the Government’s environment targets are not going to be met.
“The announcement today of a 50 per cent relief for retail business rates will be appreciated by garden centres. Garden centres, nurseries and garden industry manufacturers will welcome the investment relief for solar panels – with large buildings, our sector is well-placed to maximise the use of solar energy. Yet this is offset by increases in National Living Wage – while good for individuals – and further hikes in corporation tax and national insurance contributions which will make our UK industry less competitive. It undermines efforts to invest in the workforce. This is on top of the additional extra costs and burdens we already face doing trade overseas.
“Our call to the Government today is to harness the power of the UK’s 30m gardeners and millions of green space users, by backing the industry that produces and sells the products consumers want to ‘build back greener’. ”