trucks

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.”

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.”

Tesco sounds alarm over driver shortages

The boss of Tesco has sounded the alarm over driver shortages as the labour crisis shows no signs of abating. 

Britain’s biggest supermarket chain said it was grappling with a chronic shortage of lorry drivers and was working hard to remedy the situation. 

The Road Haulage Association and company bosses met with ministers this week to stress a “growing peril” to supply chains from the worsening lorry driver shortage.

There is an estimated shortfall of some 65,000 drivers, mainly because EU workers had left the UK and the suspension of driver training and testing during the pandemic. The shortage has sent wages rise by a fifth. 

Ken Murphy, chief executive of Tesco, said that if the crisis worsens the retailer might have to pay more to attract drivers.

He insisted that there were no gaps on shelves because of the shortages and that the supply chain was “in good shape”. 

“What I’m hearing is we can manage it and we have to play it as we see it,” he added. “Once there is an understanding that there is availability of work [at Tesco among drivers] and rates are potentially more attractive, they will fill very quickly.”

About 48 tonnes of food – enough to fill two trucks – destined for Tesco is being thrown away every week as a result of the shortages. 

FareShare, the food redistribution charity, estimated that up to a third of the food that would otherwise be sent to its warehouses was not getting through due to problems in the haulage sector. 

Earlier this month FTSE 100 discount chain B&M also revealed it was struggling to hire both drivers and workers for night shifts at its distribution centres.

Tesco’s total retail like-for-like sales rose by 1pc to £13.4bn for the 13 weeks to May 29, and by 8.1pc compared to the same period two years ago.

Shares fell 2.4pc to 225p.

References

  1. ^ Markets Hub – Tesco (cf-particle-html.eip.telegraph.co.uk)

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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)