The UK has lost so many lorry drivers that the country may be hit with food shortages over Christmas, supermarkets including Iceland, Tesco and the Co-Op have said.
A combination of the coronavirus pandemic and the UK’s exit from the European Union has hit food supply chains, leaving the system short of about 100,000 lorry drivers.
This has scared several major supermarket bosses into speaking out as they fear issues will kick in over Christmas.
Iceland managing director Richard Walker said the UK is facing ‘big shortages’ of lorry drivers.
He went on: ‘Of course, we’ve got Christmas around the corner, and in retail we start to stockbuild really from September onwards for what is a hugely important time of year.
‘We’ve got a lot of goods to transport between now and Christmas, and a strong supply chain is vital for everyone.
‘The reason for sounding the alarm now is that we’ve already had one Christmas cancelled at the last minute. I’d hate this one to be problematic as well.’
John Allan, who has headed Tesco since 2015, echoed similar thoughts when he called for the Government ‘to allow UK industry to bring in skilled drivers from elsewhere’.
He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: ‘We are very short of drivers. It’s a combination of many EU drivers having decided to go home and also the ageing age profile.
‘I think certainly Brexit has been a contributor to that but also improving economies, higher wages in some of the countries that they’ve come from historically, have also led to that flow.’
But he went on to stress that the predicted shortage was a ‘modest crisis’ which he did not want to ‘over-dramatise’.
But the Co-operative Group’s chief executive Steve Murrells seemed to be more worried about the issue, saying food shortages were at the a ‘worse level’ than he has ever seen before.
He told The Times newspaper the disruption had been caused by ‘Brexit and issues caused by Covid’.
As a result, the company is currently retraining staff to fill lorry driver vacancies.
The meat industry is struggling with many of the same issues – with about 14,000 job vacancies in businesses such as butchers and abbatoirs.
In an attempt to fix the problem, the government and industry bosses have been discussing setting up a programme where prisoners take up the roles and get job experience.
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