Haulage and food sector chiefs heightened feats of Christmas shortages amid worries children’s toys, turkey, Christmas trees and even Quality Street could run short
Image: Steve Reigate Daily Express)
Supplies of food and goods could be hit for up to a year after industry bosses warned the UK’s lorry driver shortage would take months to recover.
The haulage and food sectors claimed the situation on the ground was “not visibly getting better” heightening fears of supply issues in the run-up to Christmas.
Families have already been warned there could be shortages of children’s toys, turkey, Christmas trees and even Quality Street this year.
Shops have started selling Christmas stock even though the festive period is more than two months away.
The Road Haulage Association’s Duncan Buchanan told MPs on the business select committee: “Things are very challenged at the moment.
“There are widespread shortages of lorry drivers, which are leading delays and frustrated trips.
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“Among our members we are still getting reports that this hasn’t eased at all.
“Things are not visibly getting better at this stage.”
The RHA has previously warned that the UK faces a shortage of up to 100,000 lorry drivers.
Mr Buchanan welcomed measures to address recruitment issues but warned they were not having an “immediate effect just yet”.
Asked by committee chair Darren Jones how long it would take for the benefits to be felt, he replied: “We think it’s going to be a year to recover from where we are at the moment.”
Figures revealed by the Office for National Statistics show that driver numbers have plunged by 53,000 over the past four years.
This is largely driven by retiring drivers not being replaced fast enough by new recruits.
Mr Buchanan added: “I know there are a number of measures that have been put in place, stepping up training, stepping tests, but on the ground that isn’t having much of an effect.”
The RHA also said that “institutional complacency” in the Department for Transport about freight had contributed to the issues.
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The Government last week announced a change to cabotage rules to allow foreign HGV drivers to make an unlimited number of pick-ups and drop-offs in order to help ease the supply chain disruption.
It had also previously announced measures such as 5,000 three-month long visas for non-UK lorry drivers.
But industry chiefs have warned that the change to cabotage rules will “suppress” wages which have been rapidly increasing as a result of high demand.
Wages have risen by between 10% and 20% over the past six months, depending on location and area of the sector.
The chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation stressed there is “enough food” but they are still facing challenges getting some products to shelves.
Ian Wright also stressed that soaring food inflation, amid rising wage, energy and commodity costs, poses a particularly large challenge.
“The committee really needs to think seriously about inflation,” he said.
“In hospitality, inflation is running between 14% and 18%, which is terrifying.
“If the Prime Minister is… serious about levelling up, inflation is a bigger scourge than almost anything because it discriminates against the poor.”
It comes as petrol prices have nearly reached the highest level recorded in the UK, according to Government figures.
The average price of a litre of petrol on Monday was 139.46p.