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Britain has 10 days to save Christmas, retail sector says

Stock MarketsSep 24, 2021 15:27
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2/2 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A driver wearing a face mask walks past lorries at Ashford International Truck Stop, as EU countries impose a travel ban from the UK following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Ashford, Britain December 22, 2020. REUTERS/Simon Da 2/2

By James Davey, Victor Jack and Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain's retail industry warned the government on Friday that unless it moves to alleviate an acute shortage of truckers in the next 10 days then significant disruption was inevitable in the run-up to Christmas.

As the world's fifth-largest economy emerges from COVID-19 lockdowns, a spike in European natural gas prices and a post-Brexit shortage of truck drivers have left Britain grappling with soaring energy prices and a potential food supply crunch.

BP (LON:BP) had to close some of its gas stations due to the driver shortages while queues formed at some Shell (LON:RDSa) stations as pumps ran dry in some places. ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM)'s Esso said a small number of its 200 Tesco (LON:TSCO) Alliance retail sites had also been impacted in some way.

In a rush to fill up, drivers also queued at some gas stations in London and the southern English county of Kent. Diesel ran out at one station visited by Reuters.

For months supermarkets, processors and farmers have warned that a shortage of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers was straining supply chains to breaking point - making it harder to get goods on to shelves.

"Unless new drivers are found in the next 10 days, it is inevitable that we will see significant disruption in the run-up to Christmas," said Andrew Opie, director of food & sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, the retail industry's lobby group.

"HGV drivers are the glue which hold our supply chains together," Opie said. "Without them, we are unable to move goods from farms to warehouses to shops."

The next 10 days are crucial because retailers ramp up supplies in October to ensure there are enough goods for the peak Christmas season.

Hauliers and logistics companies cautioned that there were no quick fixes and that any change to testing or visas would likely be too late to alleviate the pre-Christmas shortages as retailers stockpile months ahead.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government has insisted that there will be no return to the 1970s when Britain was cast by allies as the "sick man of Europe" with three-day weeks, energy shortages and rampant inflation.

'DON'T PANIC'

As ministers urged the public not to panic buy, some of Britain's biggest supermarkets have warned that the shortage of truck drivers could lead to just that ahead of Christmas.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said that Johnson, whom he met in New York, had asked him for an "emergency" agreement to supply a food product that is lacking in Britain, though the British embassy disputed Bolsonaro's account.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said there was a global shortage of truckers after COVID halted lorry driver testing so Britain was doubling the number of tests. Asked if the government would ease visa rules, he said the government would look at all options.

"We'll do whatever it takes," Shapps told Sky News. "We'll move heaven and earth to do whatever we can to make sure that shortages are alleviated with HGV drivers.

"We should see it smooth out fairly quickly," he said.

British ministers are due to meet later on Friday in an attempt to hash out a fix.

TRUCKER VISA?

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 gap, while British drivers are being trained for the future.

"It's an enormous challenge," Rod McKenzie, head of policy at the RHA, told Reuters. In the short-term, he said, international drivers could help, even if it may be too late to help Christmas, and in the longer term the industry needed better pay and conditions to attract workers.

"It's a tough job. We the British do not help truckers in the way that Europeans and Americans do by giving them decent facilities," he said.

The British haulage industry says it needs around 100,000 more drivers after 25,000 returned to Europe before Brexit and the pandemic halted the qualification process for new workers.

Shapps, who said the driver shortage was not due to Brexit, said COVID-19 exacerbated the problem given that Britain was unable to test 40,000 drivers during lockdowns.

Britain has 10 days to save Christmas, retail sector says
 

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Comments (10)
Tudor Cirstea
Tudor Cirstea Sep 25, 2021 5:29
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the effect of lockdowns
bob Jackson
bob Jackson Sep 24, 2021 16:30
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Shapps is just plain wrong. 40000 drivers were not tested because of Covid. They were not tested because HMG chose to shut the testing centres down. Just as they chose to shut everything else down irrespective of the consequences. They are now getting the fallout from their monumental stupidity. We should not let them forget it.
Andrew Budzak
Andrew Budzak Sep 24, 2021 14:41
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Time to put it back on the railways
Graham Kinnear
Graham Kinnear Sep 24, 2021 14:06
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So where are these drivers suddenly going to materialise from. They are short of them all over Europe.
Saif ali Khan
Saif ali Khan Sep 24, 2021 12:49
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Good idea to short BP and then buy the dip?
Ben Delaney
Ben Delaney Sep 24, 2021 12:09
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load of rubbish, oil companies holding back products in order to sell at a later date, always happens when inflation is starting.
Doubledaclutch McPhee
Doubledaclutch McPhee Sep 24, 2021 11:10
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Retired 4 years saw this coming as who wants to drive a filthy truck inside and out . wages a joke long hours no where to park layby with toilet facilities the hedge . told to keep going or lose your job . glad I'm retired .
Gregory Lukas
Gregory Lukas Sep 24, 2021 9:27
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Business in British way means exploiting other nationalities and countries. it's a monarchy which enslaved world. they're unable to do anything on their own. UK training their own workforce? give me a break. for average British person learning new occupation takes half of life. they're unable learn too cook. eating fast food everyday. After 12 years here I've got a lot of fun now. I'm watching these UK linear thinking people struggling with everything more than basic human functions. Good Morning Britain.
Ben Delaney
Ben Delaney Sep 24, 2021 9:27
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but your still here ????
Graham Kinnear
Graham Kinnear Sep 24, 2021 8:16
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These companies had four years to train UK drivers but failed to do so preferring to pluck the cheaper option off the continental shelf
Hans Ontits
Hans Ontits Sep 24, 2021 8:16
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UK business has relied on the cheaper option off the continental shelf for 15 years in all kinds of industry.
David Hawley
David Hawley Sep 24, 2021 7:56
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you wouldn't think there was a driver shortage with the number of Arctics on the road...but another 90000!'
 
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