Sat. Nov 27th, 2021

The liquor industry has warned that Christmas parties could have a shortage of their favorite drinks unless the government takes further steps to address the UK’s acute shortage of truck drivers.

The Wine and Spirits Trade Association said in a letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps that delivery orders take up to five times longer to process than a year ago, creating “major damaging” impacts on businesses and consumers.

WSTA chief executive Miles Beale said that without urgent action before the Christmas rush, the industry would “plunge deeper into delivery chaos”, which already limits the range of products available to UK consumers.

“The government must do everything in its power to ensure that British businesses do not work with one hand behind its back over the festive season and beyond,” he added, noting that typical order delivery times have been extended from three to 15 days.

The association called on the government to expand its temporary visa scheme for 5,000 truck drivers, which currently expires on February 28, while also speeding up the processing of a backlog of driving license tests caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The claims were backed by 48 companies from the industry, including The Wine Society and major brands such as Laurent-Perrier, Corney & Barrow, Tanners Wines, Moët Hennessy and the Campari Group.

Beale warned against increasing pressure to pass on rising costs to consumers, with smaller businesses hit particularly hard because they struggled to compete with larger firms in a tight market for drivers and logistics capacity.

“While businesses are doing their best and being as flexible as they can be, this loss of security and predictability is extremely detrimental to their supply chain – and ultimately their profit margin, consumers and tax revenue.

“It is essential that [the] the government is taking immediate steps to help mitigate the impact of the driver shortage crisis before Christmas, ”he wrote.

The UK transport industry has experienced a chronic shortage of drivers since the economy reopened this summer, caused by a combination of Brexit makes the recruitment of EU drivers illegal and the pandemic, which has led to many older British drivers retiring.

In a sign of marginal improvement, the Road Transport Association told the Transport Select Committee on Wednesday that the UK driver shortage has fallen by around 15,000 drivers over the past six months, from a peak of 100,000 this summer.

But the Committee has heard that the industry is still under tremendous pressure which is likely to be visible in stores this Christmas in the form of reduced choice.

Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, which represents perishable goods delivery companies, said plans were in place to concentrate deliveries on core products.

“We are very good at stacking high and selling cheaply at Christmas time. “What we need to do is scale it back strategically to live up to the promise that there will be the good you expect to see on the shelves, but not necessarily all the extras,” he said.

The government has committed itself to investing more to make the truck driving profession more attractive to UK workers, including improving road conditions.

Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at Logistics UK, a commercial body, said the lack of decent parking facilities with proper showers and toilets is a major obstacle to promoting recruitment for the profession.

“It prevents individuals – especially women, who make up only 2 percent of truck drivers – from staying in the workforce or wanting to join,” she said.

The Department of Transportation did not immediately return a request for comment.

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