Not the most peaceful five years in meat trade history
Celebrating the completion of five years as SAMW’s Executive Manager, Martin Morgan, has been looking back at what has happened since 2017, while also pondering what the future holds for Scotland’s red meat industry.
Brexit, Covid-19, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are the key events on the UK, European and global stage which have dominated my five years with SAMW. Each one has resulted in a stream of implications for member businesses and challenges for the Association President of the day and the Executive Council to address.
Brexit was already well into its second year of ‘implementation’ by November 2017, having been voted for in June 2016. The fact that it took until December 31, 2020, until the UK finally left the EU single market and customs union inevitably meant members facing a long period of regulatory change and uncertainty.
The biggest ongoing challenge post-Exit for many businesses has involved maintaining staffing levels, an issue which still persists today. Those with strong export operations have also had to battle against new border import controls in Europe and extra costs, another issue which hasn’t exactly gone away. Demand for, and loyalty to, the Scotch brand remains strong, however, and gives me cause for optimism for the future.
Covid-19 and the introduction of social distancing and the 2-metre rule, which was obviously devastating at a personal level for us all, also added a new degree of business management demands which we could never have imagined facing. It is a huge tribute to our industry that the disruption to normal delivery processes was kept to an absolute minimum throughout this time although some businesses suffered greatly from the lockdown rules which pretty much closed down the hospitality food service sectors for a prolonged period.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine back in February obviously had a devastating effect on the people directly involved, leading to great disruption across the global food supply chain. As this conflict continues, the impact on industry costs has further tightening member company margins and created a bout of food price inflation and political turmoil not seen for decades.
Throughout the past 5 years the Association has endeavoured to work closely with the UK and Scottish Governments and their officials on all these issues, often securing good outcomes for the processing sector, while also often being left deeply frustrated by the attitudes and intransigence we encountered. Its part and parcel of this job that you win some arguments and lose others. In a few cases, however, it is impossible not to conclude that certain organisations, public and private, are simply being difficult because they can. Sadly, the ‘computer says no’ syndrome is still with us today.
On the plus side, we have built up our day-to-day working relationship and interaction with BMPA, which has been a real positive. I am sure this will continue to pay dividends for our respective members going forward.
Looking to the future, I’m encouraged by the level of commitment and determination shown by members in pursuing domestic and export markets, as they continue to supply top quality Scotch beef, lamb and pork to their global customers.
If my fairy godmother granted me 3 wishes today that would benefit the meat sector, I would ask for Covid-19 to become less of a constant health concern, for peace to return to Ukraine and for the Scottish Government to stop dithering and get in place a new support regime that re-reenergises livestock production. Even if all that happens, however, I’m sure there will be plenty for SAMW’s President, its Council and the Executive Manager to address as 2023 unfolds.
Finally, on a personal note, can I record my deep appreciation of the support I have received from members in dealing with my own health issues.