Britain has 10 days to save Christmas, retail industry says
- Retail sector warns of major disruption
- Queues form at some petrol stations – Reuters reporters
- Britain to step up testing of truck drivers
- UK ministers meet to relax rules
- Carriers: there is no quick fix
LONDON, Sept. 24 (Reuters) – Britain’s retail sector on Friday warned the government that unless it tackles a severe shortage of truckers over the next 10 days, significant disruption was inevitable in approaching Christmas.
As the world’s fifth-largest economy emerges from COVID-19 lockdowns, soaring natural gas prices in Europe and a shortage of truck drivers after Brexit have left Britain grappling with soaring energy prices and a possible tightening of the food supply.
BP (BP.L) had to close some of its gas stations due to shortage of drivers as queues formed at some Shell (RDSa.L) stations as pumps ran dry in some places . ExxonMobil’s Esso (XOM.N) said a small number of its 200 Tesco Alliance retail locations have also been affected in one way or another. Read more
In a rush to refuel, drivers also lined up at some service stations in London and Kent County in southern England. The diesel ran out at a station visited by Reuters.
For months, supermarkets, processors and farmers have warned that a shortage of truck drivers is straining supply chains, making it harder to get goods to shelves.
“Unless new engines are found within the next 10 days, it is inevitable that we will see some major disruption as Christmas approaches,” said Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, the lobby group for the retail industry. .
“Truck drivers are the glue that holds our supply chains together,” Opie said. “Without them, we cannot move goods from farms to warehouses to stores.”
The next 10 days are crucial as retailers increase their supplies in October to ensure there is enough merchandise for the peak Christmas season.
Carriers and logistics companies have warned there is no silver bullet and any changes to testing or visas would likely be too late to alleviate pre-Christmas shortages as retailers pile up months in advance.
The government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted there would be no going back to the 1970s, when Britain was presented by the allies as “Europe’s sick man” with three-day weeks, energy shortages and rampant inflation.
‘DO NOT PANIC’
As ministers urged the public not to panic, some of Britain’s biggest supermarkets have warned the shortage of truck drivers could lead to this before Christmas.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Johnson, whom he had met in New York, had asked him for an “emergency” deal to supply a food item that is lacking in Britain, although the British embassy has disputed Bolsonaro’s account. Read more
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said there was a global truck driver shortage after COVID halted truck driving tests, so Britain was doubling the number of tests. When asked if the government would relax visa rules, he said the government would look at all options.
“We’ll do whatever it takes,” Shapps told Sky News. “We will move heaven and earth to do all we can to make sure shortages are alleviated with heavy truck drivers.
“We should see it subside pretty quickly,” he said.
British ministers are due to meet later Friday to try to find a solution.
The trucking industry body, the Road Haulage Association (RHA), has called on the government to allow short-term visas for international drivers to enter Britain and fill the void, while UK drivers are trained for the future.
“It’s a huge challenge,” Rod McKenzie, RHA policy manager, told Reuters. In the short term, he said, international drivers could help, although it may be too late to help Christmas, and in the longer term, the industry needed better wages and conditions to attract workers.
“It’s hard work. We Brits don’t help truckers like Europeans and Americans do by giving them decent facilities,” he said.
The UK road transport industry says it needs around 100,000 more drivers after 25,000 returned to Europe before Brexit and the pandemic has halted the process of qualifying new workers.
Shapps, who said the driver shortage was not due to Brexit, said COVID-19 was exacerbating the problem as Britain was unable to test 40,000 drivers during lockdowns.
Additional reporting by Gerhard Mey, Kate Holton, Michael Holden and Paul Sandle; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Toby Chopra and Nick Macfie
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