Boris Johnson promises 'a better Christmas than last year' despite possible food shortages

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has not ruled out shortages of South West food produce over the coming months - but has told ITV News West Country Christmas will be better than last year.

Boris Johnson's comments come amid fears there could be more than 8,000 vacancies in the region's food supply chain with the latest shortages affecting pig farmers.

ITV News West Country's Political Correspondent David Wood caught up with Boris Johnson at the Conservative party conference in Manchester...

Analysis from David Wood

Boris Johnson's party is gathering in Manchester for its first face to face meeting in two years.

In that time Mr Johnson won a landslide election, the UK left the European Union and coronavirus has dominated our lives, but the vaccine rollout has been a huge success.

It means there are many reasons for the party to be in chipper spirits here in the North West, however, there is no escaping some food shortages and the recent fuel crisis. 

Boris Johnson will use this week to try to prove the country is improving and shortages are only temporary, he told me "this Christmas will be much much better than last Christmas" however stopped short of ruling out food supply issues dominating the winter.

Numerous times, the PM did not confirm shops will be fully stocked at Christmas.

The Government has granted extra visas for poultry workers and HGV drivers and this should relieve some of the shortages and concerns.

But the latest worry is around pork and farmers. Some gathered outside the Conservative conference to warn thousands of healthy pigs will have to be killed in the coming weeks because of a shortage of butchers. That would also lead to pork shortages on shelves - including pigs in blankets at Christmas time.

The NFU warns the overall issue with farming and food is from field to fork and needs long-term solutions and part of that is allowing more seasonal workers to come and work on farms from abroad. Already this year daffodils have been left unpicked in growers' fields in Cornwall, tomatoes have rotted in the ground at the end of summer and now pork has become the main worry.

The NFU estimates the worker shortage in the South West food supply chain is between 8,000 and 9,000 and if that is not fixed soon we'll see problems for some time yet.

Part of the problem goes back to Brexit and the ending of 'freedom of movement' and new immigration rules for EU workers coming here to work in the UK.

The Government says the aim is wages will go up and more people living in the UK will then be attracted to better paid farm and driving jobs. However, the concern amongst farming groups is that to pay workers more food prices will have to rise.

In the short-term all sides will focus on making Christmas happen, however, this argument over wages and supply of workers will be one that goes on for months and will become a key dividing line in post Brexit life. Boris Johnson is hoping wages will rise and along with them so too will his popularity.