shortages
© Maureen McLean/REX/Shutterstock
A shortage of HGV drivers in the UK is affecting supermarket supply chains.
The government is being urged to "get a handle" on the supply chain crisis, as the chair of a cross-party commission created to scrutinise the UK's post-Brexit trade deals said ministers need to act now to avoid empty shelves in the run-up to Christmas.

"Red tape and labour shortages from Brexit have exacerbated problems that are being acutely felt across production, processing, manufacturing, retail and of course logistics," said Aodhán Connolly, who chaired an extraordinary session of the UK Trade and Business Commission, a group of cross-party MPs and business representatives set up as an independent adviser to government in April.

"The government needs to get a handle on this both in the short and long term and we will be making recommendations based on the evidence we heard today".

The call for action came as Coca-Cola confirmed social media reports of stock shortages, saying it was battling to secure enough aluminium cans, and the chief executive of drinks giant Diageo confirmed it was facing a "more challenging" environment in logistics, shipping and packaging. In recent days restaurant chains McDonald's and Nando's have also reported disruption to their supplies.

Food, retail and logistics representatives told the commission that supply chain difficulties are expected to last until the end of the year, and warned they could get worse when post-Brexit checks on goods coming from the EU are introduced from October.


Comment: So Brexit-related disruptions aren't solely to blame because they're not yet fully in effect, and just what exactly is causing all of these problems isn't clearly explicated.


"We are actually facing what I can only describe as a perfect storm," said Richard Harrow, chief executive of the British Frozen Food Federation, which represents members across the cold supply chain. "Members who would normally be laying stock down now for Christmas say they don't have the resource to do it."

"It's not just about driver shortages, we are seeing skill shortages across the entire supply chain," Harrow said. "I have never seen the sort of pressures that our members are under. There will inevitably be some price inflation around food."

The British Retail Consortium warned retailers are beginning to pass on increased costs to consumers. Its director of food and sustainability Andre Opie told the commission food prices rose slightly last month.


Comment: Food prices are already at record highs, so any inflation will be in addition to that which is already occurring.


"It just feels like we are always just on the edge of coping with where we are," Opie said. "And anything that comes which is exceptional is going to cause a challenge."

The pressure on retailers comes as many are beginning to increase their stock levels ahead of the key pre-Christmas trading period.

The logistics sector repeated calls to government to introduce a short-term visa scheme for HGV drivers, to help with the shortage of qualified hauliers which has been exacerbated by the departure of many EU drivers during Covid and following Brexit.

The UK is currently lacking about 100,000 HGV drivers, according to the Road Haulage Association.

"I have never seen anything like it," said Chris Yarsley, policy manager at industry body Logistics UK. He warned that the backlog of HGV drivers waiting to take their test will not be cleared by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) until 2022.

In March, the government was forced to delay the introduction of checks on goods arriving in Great Britain from the European Union by six months because the required border infrastructure would not have been ready in time.


Comment: If the government is capable of locking down the country for 17 months, the government could, if it wanted to, find a solution to the customs-issue.


However, from 1 October imports containing animal products and food considered high risk, such as sausages, will require health certificates and pre-notification of shipment. While these changes are largely electronic, the real crunch is expected from 1 January when customs officers will begin making physical checks on goods arriving at British ports from the EU.

"From January we'll be stopping lorries," said Opie. "But what happens if those checking systems aren't ready? We'll see lorries turned back."