Meat packing businesses across Norfolk could call in people serving prison sentences and school leavers to help keep the UK's shelves stocked.

The sector is currently facing a labour shortage, with the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) - the trade body for the industry - calling on the government to think smarter about available workers.

A spokesman for AIMS said: "We have spoken with the Ministry of Justice and have arranged a call to explore options for how our members might be able to employ current inmates and ex-offenders.

"A few of our members already have inmates on Release On Temporary Licence working for them and find them all to be well behaved, hard-working, and willing to learn."

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice added: “Helping prisoners find jobs during their sentence and after release is a vital tool that makes it much less likely they will reoffend.

“We will support all industries with skills shortages where possible, and are working towards bringing levels back up towards pre-pandemic levels as restrictions allow.”

%image(14424245, type="article-full", alt="Bernard Matthews' has said it is "business as usual".")

And businesses across Norfolk say they would support such a scheme.

A spokesman for Bernard Matthews, which has a base at Lenwade, said: “Bernard Matthews have worked with HMP Norwich for a number of years and the key focus of the programme has been to give ex-offenders a job opportunity.”

Andrew Clarke, the managing director of the HG Blake abattoir at Felthorpe, added: "We would absolutely be open to working on schemes like this - we've had a couple of guys work for us before who were in prison and they were good.

%image(14428997, type="article-full", alt="Managing director of abattoir HG Blakes Andrew Clarke")

"Suggestions about getting more young people into the profession would also be welcomed across the industry. It's not a particularly attractive industry to join but you can get good pay. It's a longer-term solution which needs to be considered, because you just can't find trained staff."

A spokeswoman for the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said its members were "leaving no stone unturned" to fill the staffing deficit but, she said, what was needed varied greatly across the country.

She added: "It really does vary site by site, depending on what's around. Sites are engaging with local schools, careers fairs, with job centres, with prisons — anywhere they can try and get in touch with prospective employees."