Supermarket shelves could be empty in food shortage within WEEKS after loss of 100,000 HGV drivers due to Covid and Brexit, industry chiefs warn
- Industry leaders have called for intervention to allow eastern European drivers back into the country on ‘shortage occupation’ lists to deal with potential issue
- Comes as UK begins to reopen after lockdown and faces summer sport events
- Government says it has met with industry leaders to discuss solutions to issue
British shoppers could face a summer of food shortages due to a shortage of more than 100,000 lorry drivers, experts have warned.
A double impact from Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic has sparked a staff shortages after Eastern European drivers returned home.
And the disruption to the chilled food supply chain could result in shelves being empty of some items within weeks, industry insiders say.
In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, industry leaders have called for urgent intervention to allow eastern European drivers back into the country, similar to those issued to farm pickers, adding them to ‘shortage occupation’ lists.
A double impact from Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic is said to have sparked disruption
They have warned that without government intervention, British supply chains risk ‘failing at an unprecedented and unimaginable level.’
The issues was previously raised by Tesco bosses at a meeting with transport minister Lady Vere last week, warning that growing vacancies were creating 48 tonnes of food waste each week.
Tesco bosses said the shortage was impacting fresh food with a short shelf life the most.
As the UK approaches the summer holidays and the continued reopening of the country following lockdown, there are concerns that the shortages will coincide with major sporting events, such as Wimbledon, which is synonymous with the British strawberry.
There are concerns that the shortages will coincide with major sporting events, such as Wimbledon, which is synonymous with the British strawberry
It also warns that retailers across the country could be impacted as the country builds towards Christmas 2021 from August to September.
The letter was signed by industry groups including the Food and Drink Federation, British Frozen Food Federation, Cold Chain Federation, British Beer and Pub Association and the British Meat Producers Association.
The CEOs of a raft logistics group which included Eddie Stobart, Wincanton, XPO Logistics and KUEHNE + NAGEL also put their names to the letter.
‘We firmly believe that intervention from the prime minister/Cabinet Office is the only way we will be able to avert critical supply chains failing at an unprecedented and unimaginable level,’ the letter reads.
‘Supermarkets are already reporting that they are not receiving their expected food stocks and, as a result, there is considerable wastage.’
It also mentions the IR35 tax loophole as a factor in the issue.
A double impact from Brexit (pictured: Lorries line up at the Port of Dover during Operation Stack) and the Covid-19 pandemic is said to have spark disruption in the coming weeks
The loophole forces agencies to pay enough to cover self-employed drivers national insurance and tax.
Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, told the Guardian: ‘There is an enormous shortage of HGV drivers that we estimate at between 85,000 and 100,000.
‘We are weeks away from gaps on the shelves.’
The letter also blames the closure of the IR35 tax loophole which forces agencies to pay enough to cover self-employed drivers national insurance and tax.
Mr Burnett added that the shortage in drivers could be a result of Brexit.
‘We don’t know if it’s because Europeans who would traditionally be in these roles have left because of Brexit or because of Covid and aren’t able to come back yet because of the pandemic, but it is a very real problem’ he said.
A spokesperson for the government said it had met with industry figures to discuss HGV driver shortages and possible solutions around recruitment and retention.
‘Most of the solutions are likely to be commercial and from within industry, with progress already being made in key areas such as testing and hiring, and a big focus towards improving pay, working conditions and diversity,’ the spokesperson said.
‘Our new points-based immigration system makes clear employers should focus on investing in our domestic workforce, especially those needing to find new employment, rather than relying on labour from abroad.’
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