A minister admitted yesterday there will be Christmas shortages as a port boss warned consumers: ‘Let’s not fool ourselves.’
Ports are log-jammed, shop shelves are empty, the threat of lorry strikes looms and experts have warned that the cost of Christmas will soar.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps admitted he could not guarantee families would not face shortages as they shop for Christmas favourites.
He said: ‘We’ll all be able to be together, we’ll be able to buy things, there will be food on the table.’
But he added: ‘I can’t guarantee that every line of every product will be available. It’s at that level, rather than thinking Christmas will have to be cancelled and upsetting children everywhere across the country.’
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps admitted he could not guarantee families would not face shortages as they shop for Christmas favourites
However, Tim Morris, head of the Major Ports Group, which represents large commercial harbours, said consumers should take Government assurances with a pinch of salt.
He added: ‘This week has seen improvements in what we call stack levels, so the amount of containers, for example, sat on the ground. But let’s not fool ourselves.’ Shipping giant Maersk has diverted some vessels from Felixstowe, the UK’s largest container port, to rivals on the Continent. The chaos has led many to suggest Britain will face a winter of rising prices and empty shelves.
Families have already started panic-buying toys, a major retail boss said, as brands such as Barbie and Lego warned they were selling at ‘Christmas quantities’.
Unions are threatening a winter of discontent, with a wave of strikes over pay and conditions. Unite says it could pull its 50,000 lorry drivers off the road despite the supply chain crisis.
There are also threats to shut down universities, rail links, council services and schools in what could amount to one of the most significant periods of industrial action since 1979.
The Government has introduced policies to try to fill some of the 90,000 vacancies for lorry drivers.
But attempts to encourage 5,000 drivers from Europe to come on temporary visas have fallen flat, with just a handful taking the offer.
It says it has also introduced rules to let truckers from abroad make unlimited pick-ups and drop-offs here, adding the equivalent of 1,000 drivers to the road by New Year. Currently, hauliers from the EU can only make up to two trips to drop off or pick up goods between locations in the UK within a week.
But the change drew fury from the UK logistics sector, which said it would ‘sabotage’ British drivers by letting foreigners undercut wages.
A woman pushes a shopping trolley along a bare looking pasta aisle in a branch of Tesco in south London
Other measures announced by the Government to tackle the shortage of lorry drivers include increasing the number of tests, simplifying the testing process, and creating training for up to 5,000 trainees.
Retailers have reacted by pushing wages for new drivers above £50,000 and offering large sign-on bonuses.
The supply chaos has led to some consumers rushing to secure presents and food for Christmas, with one major retailer reporting panic buying this week.
Henry Birch, the chief executive of Very and Littlewoods, said: ‘I was amused when Tory chairman Oliver Dowden said there was no reason to panic-buy toys, and what we saw was products flying off our virtual shelves and people panic-buying toys.
The mood is one that is more nervous about product availability. The next few months are unpredictable.’
Figures from business analysts Kantar revealed that the sale of cosmetic gift sets doubled in September, compared with the same month last year, as shoppers rushed to buy Christmas presents early.
Sales of baby toys and gift wrap were up by a tenth, while shops sold 15 per cent more games and puzzles than in the same period a year ago.