Two of the UK’s biggest business groups, Logistics UK and British Retail Consortium (BRC), have written to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to urge them to act to help solve the ongoing supply chain crisis.
The move came as the heads of Tesco and Iceland both warned that Christmas supplies could be severely affected by the shortage of drivers and labour in the food chain. Tesco Chairman John Allan said, “there may be some shortages”, but warned that people should not “over-dramatise” and panic-buy.
Richard Walker, Managing Director of Iceland told the BBC, “The reason for sounding the alarm now is that we’ve already had one Christmas cancelled at the last minute. I’d hate this one to be problematic as well. We start to stock-build from September onwards for what is a hugely important time of year.”
A new cross-industry report, which has been sent to government ministers, highlights the impact the pandemic and post-Brexit immigration policy are having on the food industry’s ability to recruit key workers. The report, produced on behalf of a number of trade associations including the NFU, FDF, Federation of Wholesale Distributers, Road Haulage Association and The Cold Chain Federation, reports an average vacancy rate of 13 per cent and estimates there are more than 500,000 vacancies across food and drink businesses. It calls for the introduction of a 12-month Covid-19 Recovery Visa to enable the supply chain to recruit staff such as HGV drivers, as a short-term response to the labour shortages, and calls for a permanent extension to the Seasonal Workers Scheme for UK horticulture.
Last week Kwasi Kwarteng, business secretary, wrote to business leaders saying such a scheme would only offer “a short-term, temporary solution” and calling on them to prioritise UK workers.