Felixstowe port in Suffolk is the UK's busiest © Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Felixstowe port in Suffolk is the UK's busiest © Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Logistics firms call for government help to clear ports

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
9 December 2020

A group of trade bodies has called on the government to increase capacity at UK ports to clear container backlogs.

The group – including the UK Major Ports Group, the British Ports Association and the Road Haulage Association – wrote to transport secretary Grant Shapps suggesting flexibility for logistics firms to operate in “off-peak” times at ports, more and longer trains, and easements to warehouse planning.

The letter said coronavirus, the run-up to Christmas and Brexit had contributed to volatility.

“Ports all around the world, from Sydney to Los Angles, are experiencing significant congestion in shipping container movements. Demand has surged and there are significant issues at Asian ports causing disruption at source which ripples across the world,” said the letter.

“This recent trend is on the back of global imbalances that have built up in the location of shipping containers following disruption to the normal ‘conveyor belt’ of mega-vessels moving between Asia and Europe or N. America.

“In the immediate term whilst solutions largely lie with industry action, government can support this through providing sensible flexibilities and easements that enable industry solutions, principally around the movement of containers on and off ports.”

The letter comes as its reported Honda has halted car production temporarily at its Swindon plant because its just-in-time system has been disrupted by vessel delays and port congestion.

Congestion has spread from the UK’s busiest port, Felixstowe, to Southampton and London Gateway against a backdrop of pandemic disruption and firms stockpiling ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period.

Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at Logistics UK, told Sky News new border software systems were still not in place. “One of the reasons businesses are so nervous at the moment, they are having to learn a whole new language in customs and border checks and deliver a whole new supply chain of paperwork, with many new systems to use,” she said.

She added: “There has been stockpiling I believe. In fact in the circumstances that’s quite a natural thing to be doing, knowing perhaps your processes won’t be ready.”

Tesco has warned food prices could rise 5% in the event of a no-deal Brexit and the supermarket has been stockpiling certain items to prepare for shortages.

Chairman John Allan told Bloomberg: “We are trying to ensure that we have stockpiled as much as we can of long-life products either in our own warehouses or with our suppliers.”

The UK Chamber of Shipping said: “There is no global crisis in the shipping industry but there are backlogs in major container ports all around the world. Global supply chains have been disrupted and across the UK warehousing capacity has been stretched significantly by increased demand and PPE storage. However the UK is incredibly resilient as seen throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and we are confident the resilience within the supply chain can cope with this disruption.”

Meanwhile, the UK government announced an agreement had been reached with the EU that means food supplies between Great Britain and Northern Ireland will not be disrupted for an initial grace period of three months from 1 January to give supermarkets time to phase in new border checks. For medicines the period will be 12 months. It has also been agreed that goods moving between GB and NI will face no tariffs.

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