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The government’s ‘Pick For Britain’ website - designed to recruit UK workers to pick fruit and veg during the Covid-19 crisis - crashed within moments of a minister urging people to sign up.
Environment secretary George Eustice made a plea for help on behalf of farmers at Tuesday’s Downing Street press conference.
Curbs on international travel have left farmers worried crops may be lost as they are desperately short of staff to help with harvesting
Eustice said furloughed workers could take a second job to supplement their income and encouraged people to sign up online.
But moments later, the official website had crashed, returning the error message ‘the service is unavailable’ and leaving government officials scrambling to get it back online.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told HuffPost UK: “There is an issue with the website and we are working with our partners to get it sorted.”
Luke Pollard, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, added: “Not the best start to the government’s flagship farming campaign. We have been pushing ministers for weeks to launch this initiative and a broken website isn’t the best start.
“Crops will rot in the fields if we don’t get enough workers signed up. We know only a third of the usual trained European farm workers have come to the UK this year.”
It is the second IT bungle of the coronavirus crisis after the Department of Health website crashed when thousands of people flocked to sign up for a test.
Speaking at the conference, Eustice said: “Every year large numbers of people come from countries such as Romania or Bulgaria to take part in the harvest, harvesting crops such as strawberries and salads and vegetable.
“We estimate that probably only about a third of the people that would normally come are already here, and small numbers may continue to travel.
“But one thing is clear and that is that this year we will need to rely on British workers to lend a hand to help bring that harvest home.”
He said that furloughed workers “may be getting to the point that they want to lend a hand and play their part, they may be wanting to get out and they may be wanting to supplement their income”.