Affect of supply chain issues were making news recently in July. It was reported by supermarkets that the rising number of retail workers being forced to self-isolate was beginning to affect the availability of some products. The Co-op said at the time, it was being hit “by some patchy disruption to our deliveries and store operations”.

At this time, Morton Cullimore, who runs Cullimore Group in Gloucestershire, suggested “the problem of the so-called ‘pingdemic’ is combining with a shortage of drivers”.

Morton Cullimore, is also chairman of the Road Haulage Association (RHA). He went on to say “the industry was facing problems even before Covid-19 arrived. The pandemic showed what a ‘vital industry’ haulage was”. Read the full report: A report on the driver shortage. At the time, in July, the RHA estimated a shortage of about 60,000 HGV drivers.

In July, BP blamed it had a shortage of lorry drivers and was unable to deliver fuel. This resulted in the temporary closure of a few of its petrol stations.

Lorry driver shortages leading to supply chain issues

As we look at the situation currently in August, within such a short time, Nando’s has had to close around 50 restaurants, even if only temporarily, having run short of its main fare, peri-peri chicken. The company blamed the closures on the impact of the UK supply chain, although restaurants in Northern Ireland are unaffected.

The boss of Youngs Transportation says “a lack of HGV drivers is made worse by a shortage to driver training test slots”. It takes approximately two weeks to train an individual but there is a Covid related backlog of testing slots. This means, someone who has been trained up, will have to wait before they can get their licence, adding an additional delay.

With the pandemic and taking Brexit into account, it means, companies can’t just hire extra people from Eastern Europe to fill any gaps, where before, this option may have been taken for granted.

From a previous article published December 2019: “…with more than 53,000 lorry driver vacancies already in the UK, the loss of the 343,000 EU nationals working in British logistics, firms could see the supply chain as a whole come to a standstill”.

Importance of the industry

What the RHA suggest:

“More than 93% of everything that you and I enjoy, whether it’s the bed we sleep in or the cereals we eat, has spent time on a truck.

The shelves in the independent shops and supermarkets are stacked because products get moved there, often overnight.

We’re a vital industry. No matter what happens, come rain or shine or snow or whatever, we still have to function.”

Bringing in the army

Last October, ParcelHero warned of an inevitable driver shortage as around a quarter of a million European Union workers left the UK in response to new Brexit employment rules. ParcelHero said “it is not surprising food wholesalers are demanding that army drivers are put on standby”. Of course, it’s not just the Brexit element, the pandemic also helped make the problem worse.

The RHA now estimates the shortfall of drivers at 100,000 and has demanded the government relax Brexit immigration rules to allow foreign talent to return on a temporary basis. The government view is: “Employers should focus on investing in our domestic workforce, especially those needing to find new employment, rather than relying on labour from abroad.”

It has been suggested that there are potentially 2,000 drivers who could help if the army is brought in to tackle the supply chain issues. However, as yet, both the Department for Transport (DfT) and Ministry of Defence (MoD) have signalled that no official request had yet been made with them.

On sky news: Richard Burnett, Chief Executive of the RHA, said that “40% of the number were part of the Territorial Army – reservists” – and suggested that even the military could do little to alleviate the scale of the industry’s immediate challenges which had been made more difficult by the summer holidays.

Supply chain issues and the consumer

If there is a shortfall of drivers, it could lead to delays which we have already seen and read about from various sources in the news, empty shelves or temporary closures of outlets such as petrol stations and restaurants and of course, higher prices for the customer.

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