18 June 2021
UK faces chilled food shortage over summer, logistics industry warns

Chilled food will struggle to reach some shops in the UK this summer, logistics organisations have warned, due to a lack of drivers and production workers.

A chronic shortage of HGV drivers, exacerbated by Brexit and Covid, is now running into unusually high summer demand as the end of lockdown and opening of hospitality combines with the UK’s forced staycation.

Smaller stores have been affected already, with late deliveries meaning lost sales and greater waste of chilled goods, according to reports in the trade paper the Grocer.

“The real crisis for food supplies starts now,” said Shane Brennan, the chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, which represent frozen and chilled transport and warehousing firms. “This does feel very different to the past crises we’ve been through – the lockdown and Brexit preparations. This time we’re trying to do the job without labour and that is a very different challenge.”

Brennan said the shortage of workers was also being felt in packaging, production facilities and warehouses. With many foreign workers having returned home during the pandemic and Britain’s exit from the EU discouraging new arrivals, competition for domestic labour has become intense, and many employers are unable to fill posts.

“It’s going to be a rolling problem – there will be outages day by day. The supply chain is struggling,” Brennan said.

The British Meat Processors Association said this week that it was “heading for a brick wall” on labour shortages. It said production capacity was down 10% because people and skills were unavailable in the UK. Nick Allen, the chief executive, said: “Our problems started with Brexit and Covid has made them worse. And the pubs and hotels opening up has increased the demand on labour. The whole food industry is really struggling at the moment.”

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) dismissed fears of empty shelves, though it said there was “minor disruption” to some supply chains, adding: “Supermarkets are working closely with their suppliers to ensure that consumers still have access to the same great selection of goods.”

Tamara Hill, an employment policy adviser at the BRC, said: “Currently, there is very high demand for staff in warehousing and logistics, particularly HGV drivers and food processing centres, which has led to some shortages in these areas.”

Many such roles were traditionally filled by skilled non-UK workers, Hill said.

Organisations have pushed for short-term access to EU labour until more UK-based drivers can be found.

A summit meeting with logistics firms and transport ministers was held on Wednesday to discuss the driver shortage. The Road Haulage Association said they had “provided overwhelming evidence that the shortage is getting worse. The situation must be addressed right now.”

Logistics UK said that almost 30% of its member firms were hunting in vain for drivers. Alex Veitch, the general manager for public policy, said at at least 30,000 driving tests were postponed due to the pandemic and should be fast-tracked now. “This has left thousands of potential HGV drivers waiting in the wings when the UK needs them most.”

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/jun/18/uk-faces-chilled-food-shortage-over-summer-logistics-industry-warns

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