Britain is currently facing its own 100,000 shortfall of HGV drivers, which retail bosses have partly blamed on changes to migration rules post-Brexit and EU employees returning home.
However, the crisis on the Continent raises questions about whether Brexit is actually responsible for the driver shortage here.
Research by logistics analysts Transport Intelligence found that Germany was missing between 45,000 and 60,000 HGV drivers last year. That number is increasing, with the International Road Transport Union warning of a 185,000 shortfall there by 2027.
France has also faced a similar crisis, with the country facing a shortage of around 43,000 drivers since 2019. The shortfall in Italy in 2019 was estimated to be around 15,000, Transport Intelligence said.
Jose Gomez-Urquiza, chief executive of immigration agency Visa Solutions, told The Daily Express: ‘We’re living through the worst driver shortage that we’ve seen in recent history, by far.’
A lack of lorry drivers and food processors in Britain has been partly blamed on the new Brexit visa regime introduced on January 1, which penalises lower-skilled migrants in favour of those with qualifications.
But responding to reports of the shortage in Europe, one former Tory MEP – David Bannerman – triumphantly: ‘Definitely not Brexit then’.
Mainland Europe is experiencing an estimated 400,000 lorry driver shortage as port closures across China and the Far East during the Covid pandemic have sparked a global supply chain crisis (stock)
Britain is currently facing its own 100,000 shortfall of HGV drivers, which retail bosses have partly blamed on changes to migration rules post-Brexit and EU employees returning home (stock)
The supply of popular Christmas products is likely to be hit by domestic labour shortages and issues with global shipping
Why is there a supply-chain crisis?
A lack of lorry drivers and food processors is being partly blamed on the new Brexit visa regime introduced on January 1, which penalises lower-skilled migrants in favour of those with qualifications.
But global factors are relevant too, bosses say, including Chinese port closures and a lack of shipping containers. US Vice President Kamala Harris urged Americans to buy Christmas toys early due to a shortage there.
Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, told MailOnline Britain has so far been unable to shake its dependency on EU workers who have been leaving due to the pandemic.
The supply of new workers is also being held back by stricter visa rules introduced on January 1.
The most common complaint among UK retailers and food producers is the shortage of lorry drivers, which the Road Haulage Association currently puts at 100,000.
Thousands of prospective drivers are waiting for their HGV tests due to a backlog caused by lockdown, while many existing ones have left the UK after Brexit or to be back with their families during Covid.
Importers are also suffering a financial hit, with dramatically rising transport costs caused by a global lack of shipping containers and a slowdown in freight movements resulting from port closures.
Chinese authorities recently shut Ningbo-Zhoushan port, which is one of the world’s largest container terminals, due to a Covid outbreak.
Gary Grant, founder and executive chairman of toy chain the Entertainer, said the cost of shipping a container from Asia had increased from $1,700 to more than $13,000 (£8,000) over the past year.
Experts have claimed the shortage is due to a combination of factors including EU employees returning home after Brexit and lockdown restrictions causing the cancellation of 40,000 HGV tests. They also cited poor wages and the closure of a tax loophole for some drivers.
The crisis is also hitting British tourism, as hoteliers and bar owners try to manage a surge in holidaymakers as people opt for vacations at home than abroad, and staff shortages caused by a rising number of Covid infections and a recruitment slump post-Brexit.
Even schools are being warned to stock up on food for hot meals, with Federation of Wholesale Distributors communications chief David Visick warning September is going to be ‘incredibly challenging for food distributors who are struggling to find enough delivery drivers’.
The supply chain crisis is now starting to hit British households, with shop prices rising month-on-month, according to the latest figures from the British Retail Consortium.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: ‘There was a slight rise in prices on the previous month. There are some modest indications that rising costs are starting to filter through into product prices.
‘Food retailers are fighting to keep their prices down as far as possible. But mounting pressures – from rising commodity and shipping costs as well as Brexit-related red tape, mean this will not be sustainable for much longer, and food price rises are likely in the coming months.
‘Disruption has been limited so far, but in the run-up to Christmas the situation could get worse, and customers may see reduced choice and increased prices for their favourite products and presents.
‘The Government must act swiftly and rapidly increase the number of HGV driving tests taking place, provide temporary visas for EU drivers, and make changes on how HGV driver training can be funded. Without Government action, it will be the British consumers who will pay the price.’
Mike Watkins, head of retailer and business insight at research group NielsenIQ, which helped provide the data, said: ‘The good news for shoppers is that shop price inflation remains below consumer price inflation and any moderate increases in prices are being driven by wider economic conditions and seasonal supply changes.
‘With shoppers now returning from their summer holidays, many will be reviewing their household budgets.
‘So the next few months will be an important time for retailers to keep prices stable by absorbing as much of any increase in their supply chain costs as possible.’
The indications of rising prices in Britain come as inflation in the EU surged to its highest level in a decade with mounting costs of energy, goods and services hitting household spending.
The statistics body Eurostat has estimated that eurozone annual inflation is expected to be three per cent in August, up from 2.2 per cent in July – the highest level since 2011, as inflation moves sharply above the European Central Bank’s target of two per cent.
More than a quarter of food and hospitality firms have been hit by low stock levels in recent weeks as Britain’s mounting supply chain crisis takes it toll, according to new figures.
The Office for National Statistics said its recent business survey found that 27 per cent of food and accommodation firms have reported lower than normal stock levels – the worst-hit of all the sectors.
Low stock levels were also reported by 23 per cent of manufacturers and 25 per cent of firms in the wholesale and retail trade, repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles industry.
The latest ONS fortnightly business poll revealed that firms across the UK have been struggling to get hold of materials, goods and services.
Retail bosses in Britain have warned that the industry faces a shortfall of 100,000 lorry drivers as the impact of Covid and Brexit strangle supply chains, threatening a shortage of popular gifts and staple foods
The latest figures from the British Retail Consortium reveal a 0.4 per cent month-on-month rise in August driven by a 0.6 per cent rise in non-food prices in the UK (stock)
This Department for Transport graph also showed that the number of goods vehicle operator licences in issue in Britain was 69,000 in 2019/20, down from 91,000 in 2009/10
This graph from the Department for Transport shows how the number of goods moved and lifted and distance travelled by vehicles has varied, compared to a baseline of 2004 Q4
Driver shortage could push food prices higher
Supermarkets and hauliers have warned that shoppers could face long-term higher prices for food as result of systemic changes to the supply chain.
The Road Haulage Association said the ‘substantial’ pay rises offered by firms in need of new drivers could force supermarket bosses to pass the costs on to customers.
Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy and public affairs at the RHA, said that the shortage of drivers needs urgent Government action and firms have offered better incentives and pay deals to secure potential recruits.
‘Certainly drivers’ pay is increasing, often by quite substantial amounts,’ he said. ‘This in turn is a cost that will need to be passed on, and given the tight profit margins of most haulage operators that means their rates to customers will have to go up.
‘In turn, this may mean more of us paying higher prices for goods, services and shopping – including food prices – going forward.’
One supermarket boss also said that increasing wages for drivers will result in inflationary pressure for retailers.
‘Paying drivers more, in itself isn’t the solution as it is resulting in them making choices about the level of working hours and balancing reduced hours along with weekend working,’ they said. ‘It will also create more inflationary pressure in the sector, which no one clearly wants.
‘To ease the pressure we need the Government to quickly allow us to access the EU labour market, whilst the industry must also play its part in increasing the driver pool through fast-track driver programmes and apprenticeships.’
The food retailer also warned that the food supply issues facing the UK are now embedded and won’t improve unless direct action in the short, medium and longer term is taken.
More than one in seven construction firms – 15.4 per cent – said they have not been able to get the materials they need in recent weeks, while 9 per cent of hospitality firms also reported the same issue.
Nearly one in five manufacturing firms – 18.4 per cent – have had to change suppliers or find alternative ways to get materials, goods or services, with 16.5 per cent of construction firms and 11.4 per cent of food and hospitality companies reporting the same, according to the ONS.
It found less than half of builders and hospitality firms said they had been able to source all the materials, goods and services they needed without issues – at 42.1 per cent and 46.2 per cent respectively.
Just over half of manufacturers – 51.4 per cent – said they were able to get hold of the materials and goods they needed in the survey between July 26 and August 8.
However, Ministers have rejected business leaders’ plea to be allowed to hire more EU workers to solve problems with HGV driver shortages.
Businesses called for temporary visas to let European workers fill some of the half a million vacancies caused by the Covid pandemic and Brexit. But the Government wants employers to invest in UK-based workers rather than relying on labour from abroad.
Supermarkets and suppliers are struggling to meet demand following an exodus of drivers from EU countries, who returned to the continent during the pandemic and remained there.
This is coupled with the health crisis bringing DVSA testing centres to a standstill, creating a huge backlog of drivers taking their HGV test. A review of the Shortage Occupations list, which sets out jobs where overseas workers can apply for visas, is not due until next year.
Proposals had been floated for the Government to bring forward the review so HGV drivers could be included to ease the problems facing the supply chain.
But according to the Financial Times, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng wrote to business leaders on Friday saying foreign labour only offered ‘a short-term, temporary solution’.
Mr Kwarteng urged employers to help the ‘many UK-based workers [who] now face an uncertain future and need to find new employment opportunities’.
His letter comes ahead of the UK’s furlough scheme ending on September 30.
According to the FT, Mr Kwarteng said in his letter to the British Retail Consortium and Logistics UK: ‘I am sure you would agree on the importance of utilising the strength of our domestic workforce and how our migration policies need to be considered alongside our strategies to ensure UK-based workers are better able to secure decent employment opportunities.’
A Government spokeswoman said: ‘We have a highly resilient food supply chain and well-established ways of working with the food sector to address food supply chain disruptions.
‘We recently announced a package of measures to help tackle the HGV driver shortage, including plans to streamline the process for new drivers to gain their HGV licence and to increase the number of driving tests able to be conducted.
Pig farmers warn they will have to destroy ‘perfectly healthy’ animals after shortage of workers leaves 70,000 stranded on farms as supply chain crisis grips Britain
Farmers today warned they could have to start destroying healthy pigs after a shortage of HGV drivers and agricultural workers left 70,000 of the animals stranded on farms.
The National Pig Association is the latest industry body to sound the alarm over the impact the UK’s supply chain crisis is having on the economy.
Surplus pigs are costly to farmers due to penalty charges levied by processors when they breach their target size and the cost of feeding and housing the animals.
Senior Policy Adviser Charlie Dewhirst told MailOnline: ‘It’s a massive problem and it’s getting worse by the week.
‘There is a massive shortage of labour and lorry drivers needed in the industry.
‘The longer the animals stay on the farm the bigger they get and less money they are worth because farmers have deals with the buyers.’
Asked if there were fears of animals dying on yards, he said: ‘We haven’t reached that stage yet but it could happen.
‘It’s the thing we all fear most. I don’t know how many weeks we can last.’
‘However, most of the solutions are likely to be driven by industry, with progress already being made in testing and hiring, and a big push towards improving pay, working conditions and diversity.
‘We want to see employers make long-term investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad and our Plan for Jobs is helping people across the country retrain, build new skills and get back into work.’
Several Government departments are liaising over the supply chain issues, including the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department, the Home Office, the Department for Transport, the Department for Education, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Department for Work and Pensions.
Home Office officials are said to be blocking the review being brought forward, amid concerns it could lead to other sectors demanding inclusion.
A source said: ‘It has been floated and seems like the obvious solution but there’s been a lot of pushback from the Home Office.’
HGV drivers are currently not included on the list but there is pressure from supermarkets to include them to help ease the shortfall while more UK drivers are trained.
The current average age of a UK HGV driver is 55 and ministers are concerned an ageing workforce needs replacing.
Government officials are working closely with the DVLA to increase the number of tests taking place and have vowed to streamline the process.
They have also increased funding for apprentices to get more workers into the industry but want to ensure the UK is less reliant on overseas drivers.
The shortages have hit several retailers and restaurant chains. Nando’s saw a shortage of chickens due to a combination of not enough drivers and fewer staff working in meat factories.
Other delays have also impacted McDonald’s, which said this week it had run out of milkshakes and bottled drinks as it prioritised deliveries of other products in the interim.
Organisations from the food and drink industry have recommended a 12-month Covid recovery visa to help firms recruit staff such as HGV drivers, and an expanded seasonal worker scheme for the horticulture sector.
National Farmers Union vice president Tom Bradshaw said it was ‘simplistic’ to argue that the end of the Government’s furlough scheme will lead to an increase in workers to fill the current high number of vacancies.
It comes as stores are struggling to replenish shelves with bread and other essentials amid the escalating delivery driver shortage that threatens Christmas.
Bosses at Iceland and the Co-op say cancelled deliveries are causing the worst gaps on shelves they have ever seen. Separately, the chairman of Tesco warned of some festive product shortages at Christmas, which could include gammons and pigs in blankets.