Lack of lorry drivers in UK leads to empty shelves and uncertain futures

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By Luke Hanrahan
Lorries heading to Britain in the first ferry after Brexit, arrive Friday Jan.1, 2021
Lorries heading to Britain in the first ferry after Brexit, arrive Friday Jan.1, 2021   -   Copyright  AP   -  

"This is COVID. This is Brexit," says David Henig from the European Centre for Political Economy, as supply chains for delivered produce are in danger in the UK.

A lack of lorry drivers in Britain has sparked a new crisis that has left some shelves empty across the country due to delivery problems.

“One of the key issues is the shortage of drivers, plus the bureaucracy of all the paperwork, getting up to speed with what legislation is required," says a grocery store manager Matt Hargreaves.

He adds, "Those two things combined just totally slowed down the supply to us.”

A long-running shortage of HGV drivers has been made worse by the post Brexit exodus of European Union workers.

"Modern supply chains are really complex, they rely on a lot of moving parts, a lot of labour supplies, lorry drivers. And if one of those bits doesn't quite work or if several of them don't work, you will get shortages and that is what is happening. And it's quite possible that is going to continue for quite a while to come. This is COVID, this is Brexit."

Gary Knight runs a distribution centre in south-east England, connecting Brits with their goods. But the shortage is so severe he’s now having to pay extra to persuade drivers to work for him.

“As much as customers don’t want to hear that their prices are going up, we’ve got to do that in order to get stuff from A to B. The wheels stop turning and subsequently the shops have no produce,” says Knight.

When Britain finally left the EU, it meant drivers from continental Europe could no longer be employed at short notice.

Some drivers are now earning hundreds of pounds more every day for their shifts. And companies are competing against the giants. Supermarkets simply can’t afford the same wages.

The UK Government has encouraged businesses to hire more UK workers saying foreign labour only offered “a short term, temporary solution”.