Significant disruption in the run-up to Christmas is inevitable unless more delivery drivers are found in the next 10 days, the retail industry has warned.
The stark assessment by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) came as ministers were due to meet for urgent talks on how to tackle the current shortage of HGV operators, which has already led to empty supermarket shelves.
A number of petrol forecourts have also now been forced to close due to a lack of available fuel, leading Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to urge motorists to “carry on as normal” in a bid to avoid panic buying.
Live updates from around the UK on the energy crisis
A range of factors, including Brexit leading to the loss of EU drivers, the pandemic preventing driving tests, and existing problems within the haulage industry relating to pay and conditions, have led to the shortage of qualified lorry drivers.
Businesses have been pressing for the profession to be added to the skilled worker list for immigration purposes.
The issues around petrol supply, on top of problems in the food industry and rising gas prices, have led to warnings the government faces a “winter of discontent”.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the BRC, said: “HGV drivers are the glue which hold our supply chains together.
“Without them, we are unable to move goods from farms to warehouses to shops.
“Currently, the UK faces a shortfall of around 90,000 HGV drivers, and it is consumers who ultimately suffer the consequences.
“Unless a solution can be found in the next 10 days, it is inevitable that we will see significant disruption in the run-up to Christmas.”
He added: “Retailers are working hard to minimise the impact, attracting and training new drivers through increased pay, bonuses and new driver training schemes, as well as directly supporting their suppliers in the movement of goods.
“Now government must play its part by creating temporary work visas to allow drivers from abroad to fill the gap and keep our supply chains moving while new drivers are being trained and qualified.”
There are also concerns the current supply chain crisis will lead to higher costs for consumers in the run-up to Christmas.
Mike Cherry, national chair of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said: “Many small businesses will have little choice but to pass on at least some of the increased costs they’re facing to consumers as the festive season approaches, unless the government intervenes.
“From higher energy prices, to spiralling shipping fees, to rising costs for raw materials and components, there is a limit as to how much small businesses, already running on thin margins as we emerge from lockdowns, can shoulder themselves.
“Once you add in staff shortages, and tax hikes in April, it really does start to look like a bleak picture.”
He added: “Repayments for emergency loans have already taken a bite out of cashflow for thousands of firms, while several important support schemes – including furlough, grants for the self-employed, and insolvency protections – come to an end next week, at the end of September.
“Our late payment crisis, which has been exacerbated by recent disruption, is compounding the problem, adding to the pressure on the bottom line.”
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