Britain could face food shortages due to lorry driver crisis

Police check document as Lorries arrive at the port of Dover in Britain 01 January 2021. Britain left the European Union at 11pm on 31 December 2020. [EPA-EFE/NEIL HALL]

Britain could face gaps on supermarket shelves this summer because of a shortage of more than 100,000 heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers, caused by a combination of fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit, industry leaders have warned.

In a June 23 letter sent to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, they called for his personal intervention to allow access to European labour by introducing temporary worker visas for HGV drivers and adding them to a “shortage occupation list”.

They warned that without government help Britain’s critical supply chains risked “failing at an unprecedented and unimaginable level.”

“Supermarkets are already reporting that they are not receiving their expected food stocks and, as a result, there is considerable wastage,” said Richard Burnett, the chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, which co-ordinated the letter.

The letter was signed by the CEOs of a raft of logistics groups, including Eddie Stobart, Wincanton, XPO Logistics and KUEHNE + NAGEL, as well as the heads of industry groups including the Food and Drink Federation, British Frozen Food Federation, Cold Chain Federation, British Beer and Pub Association and the British Meat Producers Association.

It said the approaching summer holidays, the continued unlocking of the economy and spikes in demand for food and drink created by hot weather and major sporting events would exacerbate the problem.

The letter also warned that the Christmas build that retailers begin in August/September would be seriously affected.

In response, a spokesman for the government said it had met with industry figures to discuss HGV driver shortages and possible solutions around recruitment and retention.

“Most of the solutions are likely to be commercial and from within industry, with progress already being made in key areas such as testing and hiring, and a big focus towards improving pay, working conditions and diversity,” the spokesman said.

“Our new points-based immigration system makes clear employers should focus on investing in our domestic workforce, especially those needing to find new employment, rather than relying on labour from abroad.”

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