Truck driver

Truck driver shortage puts UK on track to food chaos

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The UK is running out of time to find more truck drivers before isolated incidents at supermarkets and fast food chains erupt into a deeper crisis that leaves businesses crippled by delivery delays and shortages.

Despite the growing risks, there is a stalemate between government and business over a solution. Meanwhile, consumers can’t get milkshakes at McDonald’s Corp. UK branches, some stores are running low on bacon, milk and bread, and there have been shortage warnings over Christmas.

On top of that, logistics compression could increase costs for businesses, which means higher prices for customers. This would fuel a rebound in inflation which is already fueled by rising costs of oil, crops and metals.

“I don’t mean to alarm and you don’t have to panic to buy, but having said that, availability has never been so bad,” said Richard Walker, general manager of supermarket chain Iceland Foods. “It’s getting worse and you can see it when you walk into the stores. “

The intense race for products – from fresh food to car parts – unfolds around the world as a post-containment surge in global demand merges with supply cutbacks, worker shortages and disruption port to create chaos in well-established processes once taken for granted.

But the drama in the UK has the added twist of Brexit, which makes hiring in the European Union more difficult. Industry tensions and warnings about empty supermarkets, however exaggerated, have fueled the bitter divorce debate.

As carriers and retailers adapt to deal with some of the headlines shortages, they are also asking for government help. They want EU truck drivers added to a special visa program to make it easier to close the estimated 100,000 worker shortfall, but the government refuses to budge, arguing that companies can attract staff with better wages . Companies say hiring and training will take time and that there is a pool of qualified drivers on the European continent that can be tapped into much faster.

Businesses are in desperate need of a solution as the Christmas clock draws near. Stores have to start stocking during the peak period, but this proves impossible as they deploy limited delivery capacity just to keep food on the shelves now.

A number of large retailers, such as Wm Morrison Supermarkets Plc and Asda, send their own trucks directly to suppliers to pick up the goods. Many reduce or suspend penalties for supplier delays and offer bonuses to attract new drivers. Dixons Carphone Plc, an electronics retailer, covers the costs of training and testing for employees who wish to become truck drivers.

The problem affects businesses throughout supply chains, which means obstacles at several stages of the delivery process. An August 27 report showed that around 7% of UK businesses were unable to obtain needed goods or services in the UK in the previous two weeks, while stock levels for many companies are lower than normal. According to the British Meat Processors Association, more than half of all job openings in the UK are in the food and drink industry.

“The government has said there are enough people in the UK to fill these positions,” said David Lindars, the association’s director of operations. “But where are they hiding? Nobody knows.”

The Sevington Inland Border Facility near Ashford, UK

The Sevington Domestic Border Facility near Ashford, UK August 11. (Jason Alden / Bloomberg News)

Worries about the workforce squeeze are found in all businesses.

“The problem isn’t that we don’t or can’t manufacture the goods, it’s a matter of a shortage of drivers,” said Peder Tuborgh, managing director of Danish dairy company Arla Foods, a major supplier. butter and milk in Brittany. “The situation is partly caused by Brexit. “

Tesco Plc, one of the UK’s largest supermarket chains, said this week there had been some impact on business, but it remains limited. That said, media articles about missing products and images of empty supermarket shelves on social media are spreading to the public. At worst, they could encourage the kind of panic buying seen at the start of the pandemic in 2020.

“At the moment we are working very hard to meet the existing demand and we do not have the capacity to build up stocks,” President John Allan told BBC radio. “There may be shortages at Christmas, but I wouldn’t want to over-dramatize the extent.”

Behind the headline-grabbing food problems, other industries are also mired in their own crises. Given the concoction of global and national factors – from container shipping to immigration issues – the supply crisis could be protracted. With each passing week, complex but streamlined delivery chains are increasingly disrupted, driving up costs and reducing profit margins.

Earlier this week, Gavin Slark, director of construction products company Grafton Plc, said the pressures were “with us for the rest of the year and certainly next year.”

As much as businesses can do now to keep trucks moving and customers happy, the pressure is likely to increase. George Shchegolev, co-founder of logistics software company Route4Me, says he’s very busy dealing with companies looking for options for the weeks and months to come.

“All the successful businesses that I know of have put a lot of effort into preparing for this,” Shchegolev said. “Those who are not going to lose a lot of business.”

– With the help of Morwenna Coniam, Libby Cherry, Christian Wienberg, Kitty Donaldson and Khadija Kothia.

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