The UK government has announced a temporary visa scheme that will see 5,000 foreign HGV drivers and 5,500 poultry workers allowed into the UK on three-month contracts up to Christmas Eve in an attempt to keep supermarket shelves stocked with turkeys and tackle fuel delivery difficulties.
But the British Retail Consortium warned the decision to relax immigration rules to fix supply chain issues was “too little, too late” for the festive season.
Director of food and sustainability policy Andrew Opie, asked what shop shelves might look like at Christmas, told the BBC: “I think we’re going to see less choice, less availability, possibly shorter shelf life as well, which is really disappointing because this could have been averted.
“I think it’s inevitable now, just through the shortage of drivers, that we won’t be able to get all the products on to the shelves that we would have liked to.”
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said the “limited scope” of the Government’s announcement had “surprised many” and called for a “Cobra-like” committee to help alleviate the short term pressures being experienced as the economy bounces back after the coronavirus pandemic
‘There’s no shortage’
UK minister for transport Grant Shapps on Sunday called people to behave normally when buying petrol, saying there was no shortage of fuel and the government was stepping in to ease a shortage of drivers bringing it to petrol stations.
In recent days long lines of vehicles have formed at petrol stations as motorists waited, some for hours, to fill up with fuel after oil firms reported a lack of drivers was causing transport problems from refineries to forecourts.
Some operators have had to ration supplies and others to close gas stations.
“There’s plenty of fuel, there’s no shortage of the fuel within the country,” he told Sky News.
“So the most important thing is actually that people carry on as they normally would and fill up their cars when they normally would, then you won’t have queues and you won’t have shortages at the pump either.”
Mr Shapps said the shortage of drivers was down to Covid-19 disrupting the qualification process for drivers, preventing new labour from entering the market.
Others pinned the blame on Brexit and poor working conditions forcing out foreign drivers.
Mr Shapps called the panic over fuel a “manufactured situation” and blamed it on a hauliers’ association.
“They’re desperate to have more European drivers undercutting British salaries,” he said.
Failed to plan
An Opinium poll published in the Observer newspaper on Sunday said that 67 per cent of voters believe the government has handled the crisis badly. A majority of 68 per cent said that Brexit was partly to blame.
Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, speaking at his party’s annual conference in southern England, said ministers had failed to plan for labour shortages following the 2016 Brexit vote and called for a bigger temporary visa scheme.
“This is a complete lack of planning: we exited the EU ... just one consequence was there was going to be a shortage of HGV drivers. That was predictable, it was predicted,” he told the BBC.
The UK Petrol Retailers Association, which represents almost 5,500 independent outlets, said around two-thirds of its members were reporting that they had sold out of fuel, with the rest of them “partly dry and running out soon”.
Chairman Brian Madderson told the BBC the shortages were down to “panic buying, pure and simple” as he hit out at whoever leaked BP’s initial supply concerns to the media following a meeting with Government earlier this month.
Mr Madderson said it was the leak that sparked the “frenzied buying” at the pumps over the past days, adding: “Whoever leaked it to a main broadcaster must have known the chaos that would ensue as soon as it hit newspapers, and that’s what we’ve had.” – PA/ Reuters