Restaurants hiring prisoners to ease employee shortages caused by ‘pingdemic’

Food manufacturers and restaurants have been forced to try and recruit prisoners amid a "desperate" shortage of supply chain workers, it has emerged.

In recent weeks, supermarket shelves across the country have been left empty as the so-called pingdemic and Brexit has resulted in a drastic drop in HGV drivers, factory workers and fruit pickers.

As a result, businesses are desperately trying to gain employees via a scheme which allows prisoners in the UK to undertake paid work while out on day release.

One prison has even run out of inmates to offer for the scheme due to the surge in demand.

Between October 2020 and March this year, prisoners across the country have taken part in nearly 60,000 work-related releases.

But these numbers could increase even further, as on Friday the British Retail Consortium warned business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng that a shortfall of around 90,000 HGV drivers is "placing increasingly unsustainable pressure on retailers and their supply chains."

In a letter, the group warned that the current situation is set to get even worse when schools re-open in September.

The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers is also predicted to urge HM Prison Service to prioritise food suppliers for the release on temporary licence (ROTL) programme at a meeting this week, reports the Times.

However, the group has said that there is such a high demand that there are not enough prisoners to go around.

Spokesperson Tony Goodger said: "Last week I contacted HMP Hollesley Bay, in Suffolk, for a member but the rehabilitation officer there told me, "Normally I would bite your hand off, but we have got such a big demand for inmates at the moment that we've reached our quota and we are not allowed to let any more out to go to work".'

Meanwhile, the Working Chance charity, which finds jobs for women with convictions, said inquiries from businesses rose tenfold in the past two months alone.

Additionally, a record number of job vacancies (one million) was recorded in July, with companies in the UK struggling to find workers during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Thousands of EU workers also left the country last year as a result of tougher Brexit restrictions and the coronavirus lockdowns.

Now, big-name companies including KFC and Nando's have been forced to close several branches due to the shortages of supply.

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