Brexit linked supply chain issues could “cancel” Christmas the managing director of Iceland has warned, as the shortage of lorry drivers is “impacting the food supply chain on a daily basis.”
Richard Walker said the shortage of HGV drivers is “impacting the food supply chain” daily and Iceland has seen “30 to 40 deliveries a day” being “cancelled” for the first time since the pandemic started.
Walker told Radio 4’s Today programme, “The reason for sounding the alarm now is that we’ve already had one Christmas cancelled at the last minute and I’d hate this one to be problematic as well.”
He added, “We’ve had deliveries cancelled for the first time since the pandemic began, about 30-40 deliveries a day. Things like bread, fast-moving lines, are being cancelled in about 100 stores a day.
“Soft drinks are 50% less in terms of volume, so it is having an affect at shelf.”
Walker said that stores are selling out of bread fast and “struggling to replenish as quickly as we need.”
He said that problems will start to affect the Christmas period and warned, “Of course we’ve got Christmas round the corner in retail.
“We start to stock build really from September onwards for what is a hugely important time of year.
“We’ve got a lot of goods to transport between now and Christmas and a strong supply chain is vital for everyone.”
When asked if the chaos had been caused by Brexit, Walker said, “Yes I think so. But it is a self-inflicted wound. I wouldn’t say it’s an inevitable consequence of Brexit.”
He further said, “This is caused by the government’s failure to appreciate the importance of HGV drivers and the work they do for us.”
Walker is urging the government to place HGV drivers on the essential and skilled worker list.
He said, “These HGV drivers have kept the show on the road for 18 months during the pandemic and it is criminal that we are not viewing them as skilled workers.”
Tom Southall, Policy officer at the Cold Chain Federation, told The Independent, “Larger food chains are having to prioritise some products over others.
“They prioritise possibly what makes the most money or perhaps what’s been popular.
“I think we are going to see that for some time to come, certainly through the Christmas period.
“There’s a lot of planning that goes into Christmas and that’s happening now.
“We’ve heard that there are difficulties in processing turkeys for example.”
The Christmas dinner favourite, pigs in blankets, could also be off the menu later this year.
The British Meat Processors Assocation (BMPA) also warned that the production of pigs in blankets could be cut by a third.
BMPA Chief executive Nick Allen said, “Some of the pig processors are having to cut down on how many pigs they are processing a week so that’s starting to have an impact on the farm.
“We are cutting back and prioritising lines and cutting out on things, so there just won’t be the totals of Christmas favourites like we are used to.”
Today the Co-op’s chief executive, Steve Murrells said that food shortages are “at a worse level than at any time I have seen.”
Speaking to The Times, Murrells said, “The shortages are at a worse level than at any time I have seen” and blamed “Brexit and issues caused by Covid” which has helped fuel the crisis.
The Co-op has 4,000 stores across the UK and are now training staff to become lorry drivers in an attempt to help the issues surrounding the supply chain.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, warned that consumers will ultimately suffer due to the problems.
“So far, disruption has been minimal thanks to the incredible work by retailers and their suppliers,” she said.
“Retailers are increasing pay rates, offering bonuses and introducing new driver training schemes, as well as directly supporting their suppliers in the movement of goods, but government will need to play its part.
“We are calling on the government to rapidly increase the number of HGV driving tests taking place, provide temporary visas for EU drivers, and to make changes on how HGV driver training can be funded.”
The source said, “We raised this issue with government many weeks ago and nothing significant has happened since, so it is clearly not going away.
“We need new workers to come on board to cope with this demand, and while Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) have been helpful, the issue is with the Home Office.
“There are shortages fluctuating between 10% and 20% of staff, so we need some emergency changes get workers overseas who can fill this gap.”