Will binmen solve supply chain crisis?

Will binmen solve supply chain crisis?

September 14, 2021

Will binmen solve supply chain crisis? Refuse workers are being headhunted by desperate HGV firms to fill shortage of 100,000 lorry drivers that has emptied Britain’s shelves

  • Binmen are being headhunted to plug shortage of 100,000 lorry drivers  
  • Supply chain crisis has emptied Britain’s shop and supermarket shelves
  • A lack of lorry drivers has been partly blamed on the new Brexit visa regime 
  • But Chinese port closures and lack of shipping containers are relevant too 

Binmen are being headhunted and poached by desperate HGV firms to plug a shortfall of more than 100,000 lorry drivers that has emptied Britain’s shelves amid an ongoing supply chain crisis.

A lack of lorry drivers and food processors in Britain has been partly blamed on the new Brexit visa regime introduced on January 1, which penalises lower-skilled migrants in favour of those with qualifications. 

But global factors are relevant too, bosses say, including Chinese port closures and a lack of shipping containers during the Covid pandemic – as well as the cancellation of HGV tests during the crisis. 

With shop shelves emptied, local councils now claim refuse workers are being approached to fill the shortage, where starting jobs now start at around £50,000 as demand outstrips supply.

However, officials have warned that bin and recycling staff are being recruited live on their rounds – which they fear may disrupt collections and lead to an increased volume of uncollected waste. 

Tony Wilkinson from the North Somerset Environment Company told the BBC it lost five employees in the past two weeks and said ‘a lot of drivers are getting poached’ with offers from big companies. 

Councillor Mike Solomon, North Somerset Council’s cabinet member responsible for waste, said one of its drivers was poached last week after working for the company for eleven years – and offered a 10 per cent hike in earnings.

‘We really couldn’t ask for a more dedicated team out on the rounds and I am very grateful to all of them for everything they’ve been doing,’ he told the broadcaster.

Binmen are being headhunted and poached by desperate HGV firms to plug a shortfall of more than 100,000 lorry drivers that has emptied Britain’s shelves amid an ongoing supply chain crisis (file photo)

Councillor Mike Solomon, North Somerset Council’s cabinet member responsible for waste, said one of its drivers was poached last week after working for the company for eleven years – and offered a 10 per cent hike in earnings

The supply of popular Christmas products is likely to be hit by domestic labour shortages and issues with global shipping 

Lorries are seen at an HGV parking, at Cobham services on the M25 motorway, Cobham

Ministers delay imposing post-Brexit customs checks on goods coming from the EU amid fears extra red tape would cause food shortages over Christmas and hammer firms as they try to recover from coronavirus crisis 

Ministers today announced a further delay to the introduction of full post-Brexit import checks on goods coming to the UK from the EU as they try to prevent border chaos.

Lord Frost, the Cabinet Office Minister, said full import controls will now be phased in across 2022 to give businesses more time to recover from the coronavirus crisis.

The UK was supposed to be introducing a fresh wave of border rules on imports of animal origin and certain foods from next month.

There were fears the added paperwork would hammer firms as they try to get back on their feet and concerns the red tape would combine with ongoing HGV driver shortages to cause food supply chain disruption over the Christmas period.

Business chiefs welcomed the ‘sensible’ decision but warned they ‘want certainty’ from ministers about how the new regime will work and guarantees that the rollout will go smoothly.

‘But the staff shortages – caused predominantly by the widespread shortage of HGV drivers – have reached the level where we know we are not going to have enough people available to provide the garden waste service for the next two weeks.

‘HGV driver recruitment is an issue affecting the whole country with the Road Haulage Association estimating a shortfall of 100,000 drivers nationally.

‘We are working hard to find ways to remedy the crisis locally and will have a clearer picture on compensation for our customers and what we’ll do to mitigate further impacts within the next two weeks.

‘However, this situation will not be resolved quickly without government intervention which is why we are also lobbying our MPs and ministers to fix things. I’m sorry that this temporary interruption to the service will inconvenience people.’

The Government has announced that up to 50,000 more HGV driving tests will be made available each year by shortening the application process and the tests themselves.

It is hoped this will tackle the driver shortage problem which has hit the supply of food, petrol and other goods across the UK.  

Downing Street sources have indicated they hope supermarket shelves will start filling up again ‘by Christmas’ despite industry experts warning the supply chain crisis could rumble on indefinitely. 

Whitehall insiders remain confident people will be able to enjoy ‘a normal Christmas’ with fully-stocked shelves in the shops.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman dismissed doomsday predictions from industry insiders, who warned that the days of customers getting whatever they want, whenever they want, are over.

He told the Independent: ‘We reject those claims. We have got highly resilient food supply chains which have coped extremely well in the face of challenges and we believe that will remain the case.’

It comes as Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, warned an event delegation organised by the Institute for Government that consumers should expect ‘permanent shortages’ in the supermarkets. 

Industry figures have pinned the problems on a shortage of lorry drivers and food processing staff due to Brexit and Covid, which has seen foreign workers go home to be with their families and increased waiting times for receiving HGV licenses. 

Addressing the supply chain issues, Mr Wright said: ‘It’s going to get worse, and it’s not going to get better after getting worse any time soon.’

Speaking to listeners at an event organised by the Institute for Government, he added: ‘The result of the labour shortages is that the just-in-time system that has sustained supermarkets, convenience stores and restaurants – so the food has arrived on shelf or in the kitchen, just when you need it – is no longer working.

‘And I don’t think it will work again, I think we will see we are now in for permanent shortages.’ 

Whitehall insiders remain confident people will be able to enjoy ‘a normal Christmas’ with fully-stocked shelves in the shops. Pictured: A barren-looking shelf in Tesco, West Kensington

Major UK stores, including this Tesco Superstore in West Kensington, have been struck by the supply chain crisis caused by a shortage of HGV drivers, Covid and Brexit

This Department for Transport graph also showed that the number of goods vehicle operator licences in issue in Britain was 69,000 in 2019/20, down from 91,000 in 2009/10

This graph from the Department for Transport shows how the number of goods moved and lifted and distance travelled by vehicles has varied, compared to a baseline of 2004 Q4

Mainland Europe is experiencing an estimated 400,000 lorry driver shortage as port closures across China and the Far East during the Covid pandemic have sparked a global supply chain crisis. This map  shows how the worst affected country in Europe is Poland, while Scandinavia is experiencing a small shortfall than Britain, Germany, France, Spain or Italy

Mr Wright said that a shortage of lorry drivers is in part due to them moving to online retailers and starting to deliver for Amazon and Tesco.

These jobs often have better hours and pay, he added.

The farm to fork supply chain is missing around half a million of the four million people that usually work in the sector.

Part of this will have come from EU nationals leaving the UK amid the pandemic and Brexit, he said.

Earlier this week, Supermarket giant Morrisons and leading economists both warned of impending food price hikes amid a predicted sharp slowdown in economic growth.

The chain said it expects industry-wide food price rises in the coming months as a result of the HGV driver shortage and higher haulage costs. 

HGV drivers will only have to take one test rather than two, the Government has announced, in a move designed to help quell shortages.

The Department for Transport said up to 50,000 more HGV driving tests would be made available, with drivers now only having to take one test to drive both a rigid and articulated lorry.

Trainee drivers had needed to take two separate tests spaced three weeks apart. It comes amid huge issues in supply chains in recent months, leaving some shop shelves empty, or forcing restaurants to remove items from their menus. 

A shortage of lorry drivers is one of the issues that has hit the UK´s supply chain and is causing issues for retailers 

It comes as industry experts warn that the price of food is already soaring thanks to inflation driven by the coronavirus pandemic and government job support schemes. 

Many businesses have reported huge issues in their supply chains in recent months, leaving some shop shelves empty, or forcing restaurants to remove items from their menus. 

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones MBE, who runs the popular Black Farmer food range of farm-sourced products, was among those encountering empty shelves, including yesterday at a Co-Op in Battersea, south-west London.

He told MailOnline that labour shortages were directly affecting his business: ‘We are facing a perfect storm at the moment. A lot of the food manufacturers have been used to surviving on cheap labour from eastern European countries.

‘Now that we’ve had Brexit that labour is not easily available to the industry. A lot of processors are operating at 60% capacity due to a lack of staff. It isn’t a question of not having the produce – that is being buried back into the ground.

‘On top of that is Covid. Lots of people who would have been taking their lorry driver training have been pushed out. Plus there’s the issue of lorries being driven around half empty, which shouldn’t happen in our times of climate change.’

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones MBE, who runs the popular Black Farmer food range of farm-sourced products, was among those encountering empty shelves, including yesterday at a Co-Op in Battersea, south-west London

Mr Emmanuel-Jones told MailOnline he had to withdraw product lines because processors were using their limited capacity to process orders for larger rivals

Mr Emmanuel-Jones said he had to withdraw product lines because processors were using their limited capacity to process orders for larger rivals.

‘I’ve had four lines that have now been stopped because manufacturers say they cannot fulfill my orders because they need to support the biggest companies instead,’ he said.

‘The consequence is that it is killing off small businesses. For example, in recent times my turkey and pork producers have said they can no longer provide to me.

‘The consequence is I’ll go to the supermarkets and say prices need to go up and they’ll tell me no. So we’re at the start of a big war that’s about to start. 

‘That isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it will make consumers aware of the injustices going on in the food chain.’

The entrepreneur said the food industry had partly brought the crisis on itself by failing to protect its workers, although he said things were changing.

‘The people in the food chain have not been paid well or enjoyed good conditions so it’s about time all of this was addressed.

‘Lorry drivers are now commanding some very good salaries, as are people in the processing plants.’   

Why is there a supply-chain crisis? 

A lack of lorry drivers and food processors is being partly blamed on the new Brexit visa regime introduced on January 1, which penalises lower-skilled migrants in favour of those with qualifications. 

But global factors are relevant too, bosses say, including Chinese port closures and a lack of shipping containers. US Vice President Kamala Harris urged Americans to buy Christmas toys early due to a shortage there. 

Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, told MailOnline Britain has so far been unable to shake its dependency on EU workers who have been leaving due to the pandemic.

The supply of new workers is also being held back by stricter visa rules introduced on January 1. The most common complaint among UK retailers and food producers is the shortage of lorry drivers, which the Road Haulage Association currently puts at 100,000.

Thousands of prospective drivers are waiting for their HGV tests due to a backlog caused by lockdown, while many existing ones have left the UK after Brexit or to be back with their families during Covid.

Importers are also suffering a financial hit, with dramatically rising transport costs caused by a global lack of shipping containers and a slowdown in freight movements resulting from port closures.

Chinese authorities recently shut Ningbo-Zhoushan port, which is one of the world’s largest container terminals, due to a Covid outbreak.

Gary Grant, founder and executive chairman of toy chain the Entertainer, said the cost of shipping a container from Asia had increased from $1,700 to more than $13,000 (£8,000) over the past year.

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