goods

James O’Brien asks when people will see Brexit downsides, as food trade hits ‘crisis point’

18 June 2021, 14:58

By Fiona Jones

James O’Brien questioned when people will accept the pitfalls of Brexit, as Tesco is forced to bin almost 50,000 tonnes of fresh food every week due to severe shortage of heavy goods drivers in the UK.

Reported in industry publication The Grocer, Tesco made this admission during an industry-wide round-table organised by the Department for Transport.

Alongside exportation problems, the “chronic driver shortage and staff shortfalls” means a food shortage in the UK is “inevitable”, with imported goods being rarer and pricier, The Grocer said.

With food and drink exports to the EU from the UK almost halved, 65,000 HGV drivers are needed to fill the gap made by a mass exodus of EU drivers, according to Road Haulage Association.

The crisis is so severe one leading industry figure has called for the Government to put the Army on standby to transport food if the situation worsens.

James O’Brien reacted to this: “When will it become inarguable?”

“So I can tell you that 50 tonnes of food is currently being thrown away in Tesco, Tesco can say it is in large part, not entirely obviously, we’re in the middle of a pandemic still, Tesco will say it is in large part because of Brexit, we can’t get the drivers.

“You will say no it isn’t. I wonder at what point does it become inarguable?”

He pointed out that food and drink exports to anywhere outside the EU have returned “roughly to normal levels so [Covid] is not the reason.”

He cited his local convenience store a shortage of fresh produce, questioning whether that is part of a bigger picture, also noticing a slight increase of pictures of empty shelves on Twitter.

“I do wonder whether you are already feeling the pinch. As ever now, the people I really really really want to hear from are the people who are absolutely convinced there was never going to be any pinch.

James surmised, “So UK food and drink exports to the European Union have almost halved in the first three months of the year, meanwhile over at Tesco suppliers are being forced to bin nearly 50 tonnes of food a week due to a lorry driver crisis.

“Imagine in a normal country that wasn’t still enslaved to Brexit what the tabloid papers would be doing with the news that leading industry figures are calling for the army to be put on standby. Normally they love that, don’t they?

The people that prioritise flags over facts. They think that ten students taking down a photograph of the Queen is really really bad but Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Leader of the House of Commons, flying to Balmoral to lie to her is absolutely fine, normally they’d love this.

“They’ve got the Army on standby, this is outrageous! Nope, not a word. Not a sausage, not a syllable. Such a severe situation, according to one leading industry figure, that he’s calling for the Government to put the Army on standby to transport food.”

The suggestion was made by James Bielby, chief executive officer of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors.

He said: “The situation has reached crisis point and it is likely to get worse as more hospitality venues open and demand increases.

“We are concerned enough to suggest that the Government considers having Army trucks on standby to ensure there are enough vehicles and drivers to distribute food.”

Tonnes of food is wasted each week due to driver shortages, warns Tesco and industry experts

Almost 50 tonnes of food is going in the bin each week reported Tesco, as experts warn the government of a heavy goods vehicle driver shortage.

During an industry-wide roundtable with ministers on Wednesday, organised by the Department for Transport[1], UK retailer Tesco highlighted that 48 tonnes of food had been wasted in the past seven days.

Industry experts have advised that there are not enough drivers to meet current demands.

“Since the beginning of the year, 15,000 European lorry drivers[2], which were reinforcing our staffing, have left because of Brexit, because they didn’t feel welcome and immigration problems,” Rod McKenzie, CEO of the Road Haulage Association[3] (RHA), told The Independent.

“The tax changes that came in in April have also been difficult for them.”

In addition, the RHA stated that some 30,000 lorry driver tests were cancelled last year, due to the pandemic.

That adds up to “30,000 potential lorry drivers,” said McKenzie. “There is an absolute danger to the UK supply chain[4] on which we all depend – 95 per cent of what we have comes from the back of a lorry.

“Whether you work in the food or building sector, there are clear delays.”

The diver shortage is especially problematic when it comes to perishable goods, said Shane Brennan, CEO of the Cold Chain Federation.

“If some chilled and very short life products can’t be delivered they have to be destroyed,” he told The Independent.

“We are seeing the deployment of assets from the frozen food chain into the chilled food chain to try and avoid that wastage.

“Everyone is trying to work out how we can cope with the demand with the lack of labour. We are in urgent talks across the industry and in government about what can be done to get us through the summer.

“We are trying to do our day job without people.”

Where safe to do so, Tesco and other UK retailers donate food to charities and food banks, but spoiled food often goes straight to landfill.

Average deliveries to food redistribution charity FareShare would be 150-160 tonnes per day, but are down to about 100, translating to 800,000 meals a week for people suffering from food poverty, the charity told The Grocer.

“Food we would normally expect to receive into our warehouses on an average day is at risk of not reaching us, and therefore at risk of not reaching the vulnerable people we support,” said Lindsay Boswell, CEO of FareShare.

The historic ability of the UK to deliver is now under threat, claims McKenzie, who suggested the government let European drivers back in, speed up and prioritise driver testing, and “do more at apprenticeship level”.

As a nation, our mindset when it comes to lorry drivers has to change, he claims: “We need to make lorry drivers feel more loved – these guys do an essential job.”

References

  1. ^ Department for Transport (www.independent.co.uk)
  2. ^ lorry drivers (www.independent.co.uk)
  3. ^ Road Haulage Association (www.independent.co.uk)
  4. ^ supply chain (www.independent.co.uk)

Driver shortage causes UK supply crisis

A shortage of lorry drivers is resulting in fresh produce being dumped or left to rot in cold stores, while supermarket shelves and restaurant plates go empty, produce suppliers and retailers warn.

The driver deficit – the worst in over 20 years, according to driver recruitment agency Driver Require – is the result of an exodus of EU drivers post-Brexit and government failure to recruit a replacement workforce. The coronavirus pandemic, which has prevented driving tests and training for over a year, as well as a hike in driver costs, has exacerbated the shortfall.

Haulage companies are therefore struggling to deliver goods – either imported or domestically produced – to UK retailers and restaurants, causing delays and product losses, and empty plates and shelves, distributors say.

Tesco, the UK’s biggest supermarket chain, is understood to have informed the UK Government’s Department of Transport that its suppliers are being forced to bin nearly 50 tonnes of fresh food every week because there are too few lorry drivers to transport produce to stores.

Meanwhile, the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) is so concerned that it has urged the government to consider having Army trucks on standby to ensure there are enough vehicles and drivers to distribute food.

“It’s shocking, but it’s true. The acute shortage of HGV drivers is now the direct cause of perfectly good, graded and packed fresh produce being dumped or left rotting in coldstores,” Tim O’Malley, managing director of major UK produce distributor Nationwide Produce, told FPJ. “In all my years in fresh produce I’ve never seen anything like this. Goods are being produced, but not delivered.”

The current situation – dubbed a national crisis by some suppliers – is predicted to get worse as the UK continues to open up after lockdown, and demand increases from hospitality and retail.

Brexit clearance issues and a global shortage of shipping containers are further deepening transport problems for imported produce, one source told FPJ.

“The driver shortage has reached crisis point for some of our members and we believe it is likely to get worse as more hospitality venues open and demand increases,” said FWD chief executive James Bielby.

“With the estimated 70,000 shortfall in HGV drivers, some wholesalers have had to limit the number of deliveries they make to convenience stores which has led to some availability issues.

“We’ve asked the government to re-instate the temporary extension of drivers’ hours (from 9 to 11) which was in place last year but ended recently. Other proposals we are putting forward include ending furlough for HGV drivers, temporarily waiving requirements for medical certs and CPC for those which have run out, and using army drivers to deliver to vulnerable communities.”

Meanwhile, in an open letter to the FPJ, Nationwide Produce’s O’Malley urged produce industry suppliers to work with hauliers and customers to get through this crisis.

“I would urge you not to shout at your hauliers and threaten them with bills, as that will get you nowhere – work with them to find solutions,” he wrote. “Customers will have to be far more flexible on delivery times. We also need to stop hauling fresh air around the country. Full pallets and full loads are what we need in a crisis like this.”

O’Malley added that customers need to be more flexible on date codes to allow direct deliveries from abroad. “I’m sure this will eventually lead us all to adopt better practices, but for now we need to work together to find a way through this crisis,” he said.

Alex Veitch, general manager – public policy at Logistics UK, added: “With a large pool of potential candidates available, owing to the nation’s higher unemployment, Logistics UK is urging the government to make HGV driver training affordable, accessible and attractive for all. 

“Our 2021 Logistics Report shows that 29 per cent of logistics businesses anticipate that they will be unable to fill vacancies for HGV drivers this year; a further 14.5 per cent expect long delays before filling a role. With the logistics industry in urgent need of these workers, Logistics UK is urging the government to include training for HGV Drivers in their list of courses funded through the National Skills Fund to reskill potential employees and help recruit them into the industry.

“Logistics UK is also urging the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) to maintain its fast-track programme to catch-up on at least 30,000 driving tests that were postponed due to COVID-19 between March and December 2020; this has left thousands of potential HGV drivers waiting in the wings when the UK needs them most to support every facet of UK PLC.”

Letters: Need to leave UK is urgent as the Brexit woes pile up

THE Brexit[1] disasters are coming thick and fast. As climate change accelerates, the Australian trade deal will fly inferior beef and lamb around the world to displace higher-quality Welsh and Scottish products, driving small farmers out of business. The RSPCA has warned Australia’s animal welfare standards are far below those of the EU and begged Boris Johnson not to sign the agreement. Australia allows barren battery cages, sow stalls, hot branding, sheep mutilation and doesn’t require slaughterhouse CCTV or food, water or temperature control for live animal exports.

Meanwhile, soft fruit crops will rot in the fields thanks to a shortage of EU seasonal workers. A Fife soft fruit and veg farmer, Iain Brown, said Scotland[2] is falling short of the 10,000 fruit pickers needed to bring in this summer’s crops. Down in England’s new lorry park in Kent, Winterwood Farms has seen applications for seasonal work drop by 90% over the last two years. From the end of June, people who haven’t got pre-settled status can’t work. It’s no good hoping domestic workers will travel long distances to reach the fields, set up camp and engage in physically demanding work in all kinds of weather.

The haulage industry in Scotland has reported a shortage of 11,000 drivers due to Covid, Brexit and recent tax changes, which is hitting the supply of goods to shops and businesses and increasing prices.

The Scottish hospitality industry is reeling from staff shortages after EU nationals left and many domestic workers sought alternative work during the pandemic, forcing many businesses to limit customer numbers that will result in business[3] failures.

Westminster has never cared about Scotland. We can make our own decisions only when we restore our independence. In the meantime, we can pelt rotten fruit at Mr Johnson next time he dares to venture north.

Leah Gunn Barrett, Edinburgh.

THE HARD CASH JUST ISN’T THERE

I AM grateful to Frances McKie (Letters, June 16) for her detailed list of recent Scottish economic and other successes.

UK exports in April 2021 were £49.4 billion and appear to be heading back to their pre-pandemic levels. There is no evidence so far that Brexit is doing any damage, however much flak continues to be aimed at the referendum result. Even the Australians think that a flood of exported meat into the UK is unlikely, so the fears of the Scottish farming community may well be unfounded. I will be buying Scottish beef, lamb and pork from my local butcher regardless. It is good to have a choice though.

How foreign-manufactured wind turbines help Scotland’s fiscal deficit is a calculation I would very much like to see. The 2020 rise in inward investment projects is very welcome. Notice in the latter case that the press around this success fails to mention the monetary value of the investments concerned. Doing so would illustrate how little is its contribution in relation to a pre-pandemic budget deficit in 2019/20 of more than £15bn.

It is indeed ironic that Ms McKie chooses to highlight the growth in UK national debt over the last 10 years. All efforts to contain or even reduce that debt have – unless memory serves me incorrectly – been furiously derided in Scotland as (choose your adjective) “Tory austerity”.

Ms McKie’s closing paragraph sums up the Scottish problem. It is easy to talk up a positive but vague and soft focus vision of Scotland. You can clearly see, though, that the hard cash just isn’t there.

Grant Ballantyne, Paisley.

ENGLISH-ONLY VOTES DO AFFECT US

JILL Stephenson (Letters, June 17) claims that Michael Gove’s proposal to end English Votes for English Laws (Evel) is intended to appease the SNP. Not so for several reasons, of which the most important is Mr Gove (and Boris Johnson’s focus) on a UNITED Kingdom which is now described, for instance, by the Commonwealth as “an island country that sits north-west of mainland Europe. It is made up of mainland Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) and the northern part of the island of Ireland”, when just 12 months ago it consisted of “three countries plus the ‘province’ of NI”. For the UK to become the focus, a law[4] such as Evel is a contradiction and an obstacle to Mr Gove’s ends.

In any event, Evel conceals its own anomalies, as there are some issues which appear to apply only to England, but which have implications for Scotland. For instance, if a motion is put to the House for NHS spending in England only, it may appear that Evel should apply, but this ignores the fact that any spending variation in England will have implications for the Scottish block grant.

Ms Stephenson then goes on to over-generalise wildly, claiming that “English MPs have no input into matters affecting only Scotland” – but with their numerical dominance they have plenty of input into tax, trade policy including the recent agreement with Australia and Brexit, and defence. Indeed, Mr Johnson’s majority in the House of Commons (80) exceeds the number of MPs sitting for Scottish constituencies for any party (59).

She is correct that devolution throws up significant anomalies as Tam Dalyell forecast, but when one part of a political union has the sort of numerical dominance that England enjoys, the democratic deficit for the other constituent parts (OK, Mr Gove, not nations) is substantially more significant.

Alasdair Galloway, Dumbarton.

COMPARE THE TWO GOVERNMENTS

STRUAN Stevenson (“The SNP Government’s catalogue of mistakes will soon come back to haunt it”, The Herald, June 17) and Guy Stenhouse (“Action, not words, are needed to solve ferries fiasco”, The Herald, June 14) bleat week after week about the shortcomings of the SNP Government. Much of what they say is true, but their writings would have more credibility if they balanced the SNP’s failings with those of the Westminster Government.

Apart from the successful vaccine roll-out, I find it hard to think of any successes of Boris Johnson’s Government. However, like Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland, Mr Johnson seems to be in continued favour with his largely English support.

If I can suggest a title for Mr Stevenson’s next epistle, it would be “Compare and contrast the failures of the two governments’’.

Sam Craig, Glasgow G11.

PROOF THE UK IS NOT A NATION

I HAVE tried to be tolerant in the interests of free speech and have regarded the incessant anti-SNP barrage of letters[5] by Dr Gerald Edwards as an amusing distraction from serious debate. It does become a bit tiresome at times and I have to respond today to his assertion (Letters, June 16) that “the need for independence” is in some way linked with the SNP or Brexit. The case for independence is totally linked to the plight of our Scottish nation which has no opportunity to elect a government of its own choice. Neither the actions of the SNP nor the consequences of Brexit will change the situation; only the people of Scotland can rectify this democratic deficit.

Neither Britain nor the UK is a nation and anyone who doubts this should have their doubts dispelled this evening (June 18).

Willie Maclean, Milngavie.

DO NEW LAW OFFICERS BACK INDY?

THE Scottish Parliament has backed a motion seeking agreement to recommend to the Queen that Dorothy Bain QC and Ruth Charteris QC be appointed the new Scottish law officers; respectively lord advocate and solicitor general. Were both candidates asked for their opinions about the legal status of an independence referendum held without the consent of the Prime Minister? I’m sure both will have been asked, and surely both will have given an affirmative answer? Would they have been chosen otherwise? However, neither question nor answers will be acknowledged; we can expect evasion and fudge of a high order.

Another current item of legal news is the recent death, on May 31, of James Crawford, Professor Emeritus of International Law at the University of Cambridge. Prof Crawford was scathing about the Scottish Government’s claim that an independent Scotland would remain a member of such international organisations as the UN and the IMF. He claimed that the “overwhelming weight” of precedence pointed to Scotland being treated as a new state; meaning having to renegotiate some 14,000 separate treaties and applying afresh to join international bodies. Professor Crawford’s opinion does not die with him.

William Durward, Bearsden.

Read more: Australia deal shows PPE lessons have not been learned[6]

References

  1. ^ Brexit (www.heraldscotland.com)
  2. ^ Scotland (www.heraldscotland.com)
  3. ^ business (www.heraldscotland.com)
  4. ^ law (www.heraldscotland.com)
  5. ^ letters (www.heraldscotland.com)
  6. ^ Read more: Australia deal shows PPE lessons have not been learned (www.heraldscotland.com)

Tesco suppliers forced to bin nearly 50 tonnes of food each week due to lorry driver ‘crisis’

Tesco suppliers are being forced to bin nearly 50 tonnes of fresh food every week because there are too few lorry drivers to transport produce to stores.

Around 48 tonnes of food – enough to fill two trucks – destined for Tesco is being thrown away every week as a result of a severe shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers in the UK.

The admission, first reported by industry publication The Grocer[1], was made during an industry-wide round-table organised by the Department for Transport and marks the first time a supermarket chain has broken cover to lay out to Government the extent to which the lack of drivers is affecting the food and drink sector.

It comes after i revealed that some products have begun disappearing from shelves[2] and prices are likely to increase because of the of the severe driver shortage.

Suppliers are being forced to delay or cancel thousands delivery loads every week to supermarkets and restaurants because haulage firms cannot find enough drivers to transport the produce.

The shelf-life of fresh produce is reduced and can spoil before it even leaves the wholesalers while Supermarkets often deem short-dated goods delivered late to distribution centres and stores unsellable.  

More than 65,000 HGV drivers are needed to make up for the shortfall, according to the Road Haulage Association[3].

The crisis is so severe one leading industry figure has called for the Government to put the Army on standby to transport food if the situation worsens.

“The situation has reached crisis point and it is likely to get worse as more hospitality venues open and demand increases,” said James Bielby, chief executive officer of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors.

“We are concerned enough to suggest that the Government considers having Army trucks on standby to ensure there are enough vehicles and drivers to distribute food.”

The shortage has been attributed to a combination of factors including Brexit, which led to an exodus of EU-based drivers, tax changes, which have driven up hauliers costs and a lack of driver training and tests during the pandemic preventing newcomers from joining the workforce.

@kt_grant[4]

References

  1. ^ The Grocer (www.thegrocer.co.uk)
  2. ^ some products have begun disappearing from shelves (inews.co.uk)
  3. ^ Road Haulage Association (www.rha.uk.net)
  4. ^ @kt_grant (twitter.com)