As Situation at UK's Backlogged Biggest Port 'Improving', Britons Urged to Refrain from Panic Buying
The lorry driver shortage has been blamed for a host of problems plaguing the UK, including the panic buying of petrol and diesel and rampant fears of consumer shortages ahead of Christmas.
The situation at the UK's largest commercial port, Felixstowe, is "improving" and there is no need for Britons to engage in a frenzy of panic buying ahead of Christmas, Oliver Dowden is quoted as telling Sky News.
The Conservative Party chairman was responding to the concerns triggered after a major global shipping company, Maersk, opted to divert its vessels from the port, which handles more than a third of UK ship-based cargo, to other European hubs.
The decision was prompted by a significant backlog of containers, as so-called “dwell times” at Felixstowe had almost doubled in a fortnight, according to the British International Freight Association, cited by the outlet.
The port bottlenecks had come amid the shortage of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers, with the shortfall impacting trade flows.
"I'm confident that people will be able to get their toys for Christmas," said Dowden adding that the situation "is improving" and "I would say just buy as you do normally".
Dowden said the government was "working through these challenges".
As Maersk announced that each week it would be re-routing one 80,000-tonne container ship from Felixstowe, the news had triggered fears of delays to deliveries of goods in time for the pre-Christmas shopping.
A company spokesperson had added that smaller vessels were to be used for UK-bound deliveries, to Felixstowe or another port, as smaller berths had greater spare capacity.
Felixstowe, stressed the spokesperson for Maersk, was not the only port suffering bottlenecks, as there was a globally high demand for shipping space compounding the HGV driver shortage.
Furthermore, Maersk warned that congestion-triggered delays could result in retailers having to prioritise what goods they ship.
"The pre-Christmas peak, combined with haulage shortages, congested inland terminals, poor vessel schedule reliability and the pandemic, has resulted in a build-up of containers at the port. The vast majority of import containers are cleared for collection within minutes of arriving and there are over 1,000 unused haulier bookings most days. However, the situation is improving and there is more spare space for import containers this week than at any time since the beginning of July when supply chain impacts first started to bite," a spokesperson for the port was cited as saying.
According to Tim Morris, chief executive of the UK Major Ports Group, ports were "managing access to storage space".
"They have extended gate opening to 24/7, increased capacity for trucks at peak hours, sought to maximise rail freight usage within the significant constraints of the network, created additional storage space and recruited more people.” However, he added that the problem was exacerbated, notably, by the shortages of HGV drivers.
Supply Chain Disruption
The UK has been facing supply chain issues, particularly with petrol and diesel.
Shortages at petrol stations remain “serious”, retailers warned, with a tenth of stations in London and the southeast still without fuel. A shortfall of HGV drivers had led to reduced amount of petrol in forecourts, triggering “panic” buying.
Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, cited “a welcome improvement” over the past weekend, with 10% of non-motorway sites running out of fuel.
The lorry driver crisis arose from a plethora of factors. As economies rebound after the COVID-19 pandemic and its lockdowns, Britain also has to contend with its post-Brexit consequences.
Thus, the UK is short of an estimated 100,000 HGV drivers to ensure reliable deliveries of goods across the country.
A Road Haulage Association (RHA) survey is cited as saying the shortfall includes thousands of drivers from European Union (EU) member states who previously lived and worked in the UK.
According to the Annual Population Survey, commissioned by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there were 16,000 fewer EU nationals working as HGV drivers in the year ending March 2021, than in the previous year.
Amid coronavirus lockdowns, that restricted travel in 2020, many European drivers went home. Furthermore, the health crisis created a backlog in HGV driver tests.
While there are similar lorry driver shortages across Europe, in the UK Brexit complicated things.
Many European drivers are unable to return due to new immigration rules. Another cited reason are tax changes. The reform of the UK’s IR35 off-payroll working rules came into force on 6 April 2021. Changes pertains to how people working off the payroll pay tax and are aimed at preventing workers from setting up limited companies and paying less tax and National Insurance.
Amid calls to urgently deal with the shortage situation, the UK government has opted to introduce temporary visas for 5,000 fuel tanker and food lorry drivers ahead of Christmas to rule out deliveries of food and fuel being seriously impacted. However, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng was cited as telling the BBC on 10 October that there had only been about 27 applications.
Ministry of Defence examiners will be recruited to increase the number of HGV driving tests, with another 1,000 people to be trained through courses funded by the adult education budget. The government is also calling on an estimated one million drivers who hold an HGV licence to encourage them to return to the industry.