‘Not Greggs too’: can the government fix food shortages before Christmas?
Supply-chain issues leave supermarkets and restaurants unable to serve up favourite goods
Supermarket bosses have warned that the UK’s supply chain crisis could “cancel Christmas” as the industry is hit by a double whammy of staff shortages caused by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Industry leaders are urging the government to ease immigration rules so that EU citizens who left the UK during Brexit can “return and help fill major gaps in the workforce”, reported The Independent.
Iceland boss Richard Walker told the paper he was “sounding the alarm now” over a chronic lack of lorry drivers because “we’ve already had one Christmas cancelled at the last minute and I’d hate this one to be problematic as well.”
Meanwhile, Steve Murrells, chief executive of the Co-operative Group, told The Times that food shortages are “at a worse level than at any time I have seen,” telling the paper that the crisis was a result of “Brexit and issues caused by Covid”.
From milkshakes to pigs in blankets
Several of the country’s favourite fast-food and restaurant chains have been hit by the crisis – with bakery group Greggs the latest to be affected.
“Not Greggs too”, complained users on social media site Twitter, as PoliticsHome revealed staff had reported a number of chicken product shortages across their menu, including “the chicken bake, the chargrill chicken oval bite, and several chicken-filled baguettes”.
The shortages come just days after McDonald’s outlets across England, Scotland and Wales announced they are facing a milkshake shortage, reported the Daily Mirror, with over 1,250 of its outlets unable to serve the drink due to supply-chain issues.
Last week, British favourite Nando’s was forced to close 50 of its restaurants due to a chicken shortage – also caused by a lack of lorry drivers and staff at their suppliers.
And Nick Allen, chief executive at the British Meat Processors Association, told LBC that the UK could be facing a shortage of pigs in blankets come Christmas-time.
"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 back on the farm,” he told LBC’s Nick Ferrari.
He continued: "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."
Temporary work visas for EU lorry drivers
Lobby groups from retail and transport industries have written to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to urge a review of plans not to grant temporary work visas to drivers from the EU to fill driver vacancies.
Logistics UK, which represents freight firms, and the British Retail Consortium, say that while Brexit and Covid-19 caused lorry drivers to leave the UK, “a temporary visa could lure them back”, reported the BBC.
The two groups have called upon the government to grant temporary work visas to HGV drivers from the European Union, provide funding to train new drivers, and improve Covid testing facilities so lorry drivers can be tested daily.
They warned that the country was facing a shortage of about 90,000 drivers, which is “placing increasingly unsustainable pressure on retailers and their supply chains".
Analysis of the Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey by Logistics UK suggests that 14,000 EU lorry drivers left jobs in the UK in the year to June 2020, and only 600 have returned this year.
However, the government has so far rejected suggestions to bring in EU labour through a temporary visa scheme, telling employers to “invest in our domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad”, according to a government spokesperson.
The government has also announced plans to “streamline” lorry driving tests amid an estimated backlog of around 45,000 tests that were put on hold during the pandemic.
It has also relaxed rules over drivers’ hours so HGV drivers can make longer journeys, but only if it does not compromise driver safety.