Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Muller-Otvos. The company may have to halve production due to absences © Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars
Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Muller-Otvos. The company may have to halve production due to absences © Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

Warnings over supplies as thousands get 'pinged'

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
16 July 2021

Industry is warning of supply shortages and production problems ahead of coronavirus restrictions being lifted in the UK on what was dubbed “freedom day”.

Car plants, food producers, construction, and factories are reporting staffing issues after half a million people in the UK were “pinged” in a single week by the NHS app.

Unite the Union said factories were “on the verge of shutting” and a major engine supplier had said delays to orders were so severe work might be permanently moved to China.

A lack or shortage of essential materials and suppliers post-lockdown was cited as a major concern by 59% of project managers in a survey by the Association for Project Management.

Up to 900 workers have reportedly been sent home from Nissan’s Sunderland car plant, while Rolls-Royce Motor Cars said it may have to halve production at its Goodwood factory.

Nick Allen, CEO at the British Meat Processors Association, told the BBC’s Today programme up to 10% of factory workers were being pinged and isolating, which on top of existing skills shortages meant absences could reach a “critical 15% mark”. “Government have indicated that if we get to that point they will try and intercede because the priority is always to keep the food supply chain running,” he said.

On Monday 19 July lockdown legal restrictions will be lifted, with no mandatory mask-wearing, restrictions on the numbers who can gather will be removed, and social distancing rules will end.

A ping from the NHS Test and Trace app means someone has come into contact with another who has tested positive for coronavirus and they should isolate at home for 10 days.

SMEs in the construction sector lost an average of 29 days every month in the year up to May 2021 due to staff absences, said trade body Actuate UK.

Fiona Hodgson, CEO of Actuate UK member SNIPEF, said: “This survey gives us grave concern about the long-term effects of Covid on our industry.

“As the restrictions ease, Actuate UK urges industry to strike a balance when considering the health of its workers and the need to move the economy forward.”

Stephen Phipson, chief executive of MakeUK, told Sky News: “Over the last 10 days or so we have seen a significant rise in people being required to self isolate after being pinged by the app. In many companies we are looking at a rate of 20%, which is very significant.”

The government has said from 16 August those who are double jabbed and get pinged will only need to get a test rather then self isolate, but industry is calling for this date to be brought forward.

Lucy Frazer, the government’s solicitor-general, told Today a pilot was taking place at some businesses where people who are pinged are tested rather than told to self isolate. “The government is very conscious of the effect on business,” she said.

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