It was hailed by Theresa May as a business success story that showed how Brexit could be a piece of cake. A Somerset-based dessert-making company called Ministry of Cake had been sold to a French rival called Mademoiselle Desserts.
But the managing director of the firm has told the Financial Times that Britain leaving the EU will pose major challenges for its ability to recruit staff and – ultimately – to expand in the future.
Chris Ormrod told the FT that the business could be “decimated” if it was not able to bring in unskilled workers from the continent in the future.
“In business you deal with lemons as they get sent towards you and you make lemonade,” he said. “Brexit is a huge lemon, the size of a small tank.”
Rebecca Pow, Tory MP for Taunton Deane, asked at a recent PMQs whether Theresa May agreed that the takeover of Ministry of Cake demonstrated “confidence in our economy” and Britain’s ability to attract foreign investment despite Brexit.
The prime minister replied that the deal showed people’s confidence in “the future of our economy, the fundamental strengths of our economy”.
But Mr Ormrod said that the deal had been first agreed before the EU referendum on June 23. “They bought us before Brexit was going to happen but carried on despite that.”
About half of the 400 people working for his cake and pudding business are from abroad at the moment, according to Mr Ormrod.
He said he did not want to criticise British workers, but it was hard not to: the UK’s educational system was so “aspirational” that it had left people only wanting to work in the service industries, he said.
“School leavers find it hard to come and work in a factory and stand in a production line for two or three hours at a time,” he said. “You can’t go for a break when they feel like it, can’t talk to their mates, the idea of working in a dark satanic mill fills them with dread.”
Mr Ormrod said his company currently had 30 vacancies for its two sites in Taunton and Torquay. That shortage was fairly usual and not due to the Brexit vote, he admitted.
“But three years from now I think it could be much worse…It’s a concern for the wider food industry, which has always used an element of foreign workers to fill the vacancies.”
Anti-EU campaigners had complained about red tape from Brussels, he argued. But leaving the bloc would been entrepreneurs having to fill in huge amounts of red tape every time they wanted to take on a worker from elsewhere in Europe.
Mr Ormrod was recently interviewed by the BBC alongside Iain Duncan Smith, the Eurosceptic former work and pensions secretary – for a Brexit documentary that will go out on Thursday night. He took issue with the IDS argument that his company could find British workers from elsewhere.
“IDS said there were plenty of people without jobs in the north-east who could come and take up these jobs,” he said. “That sounds to me like Norman Tebbit’s ‘get on your bike’”, he said.
Mr Duncan Smith said that was an unfair interpretation of his claim that companies were recruiting East Europeans rather than trying to hire in the UK.
“I was arguing that there are companies that do not bother advertising jobs in the UK and if they did they would find workers in the travel-to-work area or beyond in this country,” said the former work and pensions secretary. “It was about putting British people first.”