10 days to save Christmas: shops warn of disruption due to lack of lorry drivers

Significant disruption to Christmas is “inevitable” unless the government fixes an acute shortage of lorry drivers in the next 10 days, the UK retail industry body has warned, as queues formed at petrol stations and official statistics showed shoppers could not find the food they wanted.

The British Retail Consortium said the lack of HGV drivers had left the country without the “glue” that held crucial supply chains of food and goods together.

“Without them, we are unable to move goods from farms to warehouses to shops,” said Andrew Opie, its director of food and sustainability.

“Unless a solution can be found in the next 10 days, it is inevitable that we will see significant disruption in the run-up to Christmas.”

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, had earlier said he would “move heaven and earth” to solve the nationwide shortage of lorry drivers, as the issue began to threaten fuel supplies at some petrol stations.

He indicated that this could include issuing short-term visas to skilled workers from Europe, in the hope of attracting them to the UK to plug the gap.

Shapps denied Brexit was to blame for fuel shortages, which he insisted could be “smoothed out relatively quickly”.

As the government casts around for ways to alleviate the problem, figures from the Office of National Statistics revealed that millions of people were already struggling to find the products they were looking for.

The ONS said a quarter of British people had reported gaps on supermarket shelves over the past two weeks, with one in six reporting difficulty in finding “essential” items.

Six in 10 people noticed differences when food shopping, most commonly a lack of variety in the products available. Four in 10 said they couldn’t find everything they wanted to buy.

Relatively few people, 4%, reported being unable to get hold of fuel or medicine, but 13% reported waiting longer than usual for prescriptions.

About 25,000 HGV drivers from the EU left during 2020 and did not return, while there is also a backlog of 40,000 people waiting to take their HGV tests. The current workforce is also ageing.

The Road Haulage Association said the government was not taking the problem seriously enough. “The average age of a truck driver in the UK is 57, every day this problem is just getting worse as more and more retire,” said Rod McKenzie, the managing director of policy and public affairs at the RHA.

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