Logjam at busiest UK port linked to shortage of drivers

Published October 14, 2021
A VIEW of stacked shipping containers at Britain’s Felixstowe port on Wednesday.—Reuters
A VIEW of stacked shipping containers at Britain’s Felixstowe port on Wednesday.—Reuters

LONDON: A logjam at the UK’s busiest commercial port ratcheted up concerns on Wednesday that the country could see an array of shortages in the crucial Christmas trading period, including of toys and food.

Worries have mounted over recent weeks that the UK’s economic recovery is being hobbled by widespread shortages, which have been most clearly seen in long lines at gas stations and some empty shelves at supermarkets.

The disruption is clearly visible at the east England port of Felixstowe, the UK’s largest commercial port. A bottleneck of containers at the port, which deals with 36pc of UK freight container volumes, has been blamed on a shortage of drivers and prompted shipping company Maersk to divert some of its biggest vessels.

Peter Wilson, managing director at Cory Brothers shipping agency, said the UK has a significant pinch point around truck drivers and the demand on them to move goods from ports. That’s a really significant issue for us here in the UK, he told BBC radio.

Asked if it will affect Christmas, he said it has the potential, but stressed that the supply chain will not fail in the UK. However, he said there is potential that some items may not be available nearer to Christmas, including toys and food.

While other countries around the world have also suffered significant delays, Britain is facing particularly acute problems at the moment, with the number of truck drivers in particular way down. The causes are widespread, but its clear that the combination of Britain’s departure from the European Union exit and the pandemic prompted many EU workers to leave the UK and head home.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said the congestion at Felixstowe is yet another unwanted side-effect of the driver shortage and that further disruption may be unavoidable.” Britain’s Conservative government has sought to dampen down on fears there will be a shortage of many goods at Christmas and says it is accelerating efforts to train more truck drivers and is offering thousands of short-term visas to foreign drivers, though few appear to have taken the offer up.

The shortages are coming at a time when the economic recovery is already losing momentum despite the widespread lifting of coronavirus restrictions as supply chain issues took their toll.

While the Office of National Statistics said the economy managed some modest growth in August as bars, restaurants and festivals benefited from the first full month without coronavirus restrictions in England, the 0.4pc increase was slightly lower than anticipated. The agency also revised down July’s figure from 0.1pc growth to a 0.1pc decline as a result of weaker data from a number of industries highlighting the choppy nature of the economic recovery.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2021

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