Bakeries that employ migrant workers are beginning to plug employment gaps by recruiting closer to home, with one employment agency seeing a “dramatic drop” in the number of Eastern European bakers on its books.

Fewer Eastern Europeans are registering to work in the UK, acccording to Home Office data; in the three months to December last year 29,000 people applied - down from 53,000 during the same period in 2007.

Joanna Ozimek of job agency Employment Choice, which places bakery staff, said: “It’s definitely more difficult to source these people, who have experience and who speak English.”

However, London craft bakery Flourish, which employs 80% Eastern European workers, said the recession meant recruitment was less of an issue. Operations manager Shuk Ng added: “There seems to be a lot of bakers out there looking for work, from all sorts of countries.”

Fosters Bakery in Barnsley, whose workforce consists of 20% Eastern Europeans, is aiming to recruit local workers before immigration laws relax across Europe in 2011, when more migrants may choose to work in other countries such as Germany.

Operations director Michael Taylor said: “We’ve got quite a stable workforce and some of our Eastern European workers are in managerial positions. However, we do recognise that we need to recruit locally and are focusing on this as well as upskilling our workforce and apprenticeship schemes.”

Food and drink sector skills council Improve had hit out at the government’s decision to extend the Worker Registration Scheme (WRS) to 2011 for Eastern Europeans entering the country to work. Chief executive Jack Matthews said the decision demonstrated a lack of empathy with food and drink companies including bakers, which rely on permanent and seasonal overseas labour.

Under the WRS, migrants from Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Hungary must pay £90 and submit their passports before being allowed to work in the UK.

However, Ozimek at Employment Choice said: “Extending the WRS scheme isn’t an issue, as it’s just like getting a driver’s licence and is not an obstacle to getting work.”