Over the past few weeks, images of bare supermarket shelves and severely substituted food deliveries have circulated across social media, adding to the fear of many consumers. KFC is one of the most recent food chains to add to this feeling of anguish, with many drawing similarities to its previous shortages where customers were forced to eat at Burger King. So, what has caused this sudden drop in the supply chain? Is the Covid-19 ‘pingdemic’ at fault, or are the effects of Brexit finally taking their toll on the import of produce to the UK?
The legal requirement for thousands of retail staff to isolate in the past few weeks, after either contracting the COVID-19 virus or coming into contact with someone who tested positive, has undoubtedly had a significant impact on labour capabilities in recent days.
“Everywhere you look in a supply chain there are problems”
“Everywhere you look in a supply chain there are problems,” said Shane Brennan, CEO of Cold Chain Federation. “Food already isn’t being replenished into supermarkets quick enough and it’s not just because of logistics but a lack of production.”
It is not just those working on supermarket shelves that have been off work, but, even more significantly, those who are working in the manufacturing of the produce, with the low pay and instability of the sector another reason for the shortfall in workers.
The Road Haulage Association (RHA) has said there is now a shortage of at least 100,000 drivers
Compounding the production difficulties, there is now also a significant shortfall in transport supplies, with a lack of HGV drivers to deliver the produce. The Road Haulage Association (RHA) has said there is now a shortage of at least 100,000 drivers, which could worsen in the weeks to come. Many workers have also been forced to isolate which has increased the existing shortfall, whilst others have had their HGV tests to pass as truck drivers delayed because of the pandemic, creating a huge backlog. Whilst the government has brought in army reinforcements to help manage the situation, and companies such as Dixons Carphone are offering cash incentives to retrain staff members as drivers, RHA’s Rod McKenzie still worries that the crisis poses a “very serious threat” to supplies.
So, the lasting effects of Covid-19 are clearly evident in the latest shortfall, and whilst isolation rules are beginning to ease up for those who are double jabbed, this will fail to completely remedy the current crisis.
But what about Brexit? Is there any substance behind the claims – now so evident on social media – of hundreds of lorries jammed up at borders?
Certainly, it would be wrong to say that Brexit hasn’t brought its challenges when it comes to supplies. Endless sheets of paperwork and border checks, imposed because the UK has now left the single market as per the withdrawal agreement, has slowed the movement of produce and led to many diplomatic rows between the UK government and the EU, especially over the movement of produce across Ireland.
Yet, it is important to note that the reason why the Brexit situation is so severe is because of the shortage in labour to manage the transfer of goods. None of these problems can be solely to blame for the current crisis in food supplies, and all have compounded an already bad situation.
So, what is the solution?
There is no easy remedy, but a huge recruitment drive will be essential in the weeks to come. Retail workers need to be incentivised to work and job retention must be a vital priority, with isolation restrictions on labourers kept to an absolute minimum.
Unless this situation is solved, shelves could remain bare, leading to the panic buying we saw at the very start of the pandemic.
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