The shelves of countless supermarkets across the UK are appearing empty due to a major supply chain crisis. The problem is not due to a shortage of food, but of truck drivers.
It is a problem caused partly by Brexit and partly by the pandemic, but it is affecting everyone from small village stores to large supermarket chains. Industry leaders warn that it will get worse unless the government allows more willing truckers to come from overseas.
This summer should be the season of abundance, but the truth is that many users are complaining about the situation through social networks. Of course, not all supermarkets are feeling the same, but major retailers such as Sainsburys and Tesco have already warned that they cannot keep all their stores stocked in the way they would like.
“The number of deliveries decreases over the course of a week, so where they could get five, six, or seven deliveries a week they may have dropped to four or five,” explains analyst Bryan Roberts. “Tesco has already indicated that it has had some food wastage problems, as it can’t get food through the system fast enough. And I think we will see a lot more of these problems in the coming weeks and months, because there is a huge shortfall of truck drivers and that will take a long time to fix, because thousands of them would have to be trained,” Roberts warns.
No short-term solution
The UK has an estimated 100,000 fewer truck drivers than it needs for a long list of reasons. Because of Brexit, new drivers from Europe can no longer come to work here easily.
Many others went home during the pandemic and have not returned. And while the country was locked out, the training of new drivers came to a halt. The government’s solution: change the rules so that drivers can stay on the road longer.
“The problem with extending drivers’ hours is that drivers who are already tired get even more tired, and that translates into less safe roads,” explains Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulers Association. “We need to encourage some drivers who have the qualifications but simply aren’t driving to return to the profession as a sort of emergency measure.”
McKenzie also makes it clear that “we would like to see European truck drivers allowed to return. Add them to the list of scarce occupations, or give them short-term visas to come and work here.”
There is no sign yet that the British government will try to recruit more drivers from abroad. It is also trying to increase the capacity of driving tests so there can be more drivers. There are no quick fixes. This is a problem that is expected to get worse rather than better.