Driver shortage crisis threatens UK milk deliveries in wake of Brexit and Covid

Supermarkets could face a “summer of disruption” to milk deliveries if widespread driver shortages amid the Covid pandemic are not addressed, according to the UK’s biggest dairy supplier.

Arla, which supplies milk to about 2,400 stores each day in the UK, said it was unable to deliver to 600 shops last Saturday due to dwindling driver numbers.

Ash Amirahmadi, managing director of Arla Foods UK, said the company was unable to fulfil about 10% of orders in the south of England as existing staff shortages had been worsened by drivers being forced to self-isolate after coming into contact with someone who had tested positive for Covid-19.

“We need to make sure we don’t have food shortages in the summer,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The company is putting up a £2,000 signing-on bonus for new drivers prepared to work weekends, double the sum Tesco announced earlier this week, as it said it was particularly hard to find drivers for those shifts.

“Since around mid-April, we have been experiencing driver shortages, particularly in the south of the country. It’s progressively got worse and our assessment is that we’re currently now facing a driver shortage crisis,” Amirahmadi said later.

He called on the government to help clear a backlog of HGV driving tests and to add lorry drivers to the list of skilled worker visas, making it easier for overseas workers to come to the UK. He also asked for a change in the UK’s self-isolation regime linked to the NHS track and trace app, which has led to some workers who tested negative for the virus having to stay at home.

Arla said it was also taking its own measures to increase the supply of drivers, stepping up training at its five UK depots.

Amirahmadi’s comments come after Nisa, the supplier to independent retailers owned by the Co-op, warned some of its members that it was having to cancel some deliveries because of driver shortages.

In a letter to its convenience store partners, the company said it was experiencing “extraordinarily high volumes on orders” that were three times its vehicle and driver capacity. It said it was having to cancel some frozen food orders and it is understood that driver shortages were a major contributor to the cancellations.

The latest problems with deliveries comes amid frenzied competition for specialist HGV drivers caused by a mix of Brexi, the Covid-19 pandemic and tax changes that have prompted some drivers to leave the trade. A surge in demand for home delivery has also provided alternative employment opportunities.

Logistics UK, which represents freight owners including supermarkets, has estimated a shortage of 90,000 HGV drivers, including about 25,000 from the EU who have gone home since Brexi. There is also a backlog of 45,000 lorry driving tests, which are expected to lead to about 25,000 drivers becoming available.

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