Freight rates are rising to unsustainable levels © Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Freight rates are rising to unsustainable levels © Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Driver shortage leading to produce 'rotting in cold stores'

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
22 June 2021

The UK lorry driver shortage is leading to fresh produce being “dumped or left rotting in cold stores”, a company boss has claimed.

Tim O’Malley, managing director at Nationwide Produce, said his firm was struggling to get goods delivered to customers because hauliers did not have the drivers and it was a common problem across the industry. “Goods are being produced, but not delivered,” he said.

In a blog for Fresh Produce Journal O’Malley said: “Supermarket shelves and restaurant plates are going empty, and this is now a crisis of national importance.”

He added: “I would urge all suppliers in the industry to work with hauliers and customers to get us through this crisis.

“I heard of one supermarket who stuck to their rules rigorously last week and rejected lorries for being literally minutes late. They are now in crisis talks with two major hauliers who are seriously threatening to stop carrying goods for them or any of their suppliers.

“I would urge you not to shout at your hauliers and threaten them with bills, as that will get you nowhere – work with them to find solutions.”

The shortage has been caused by a combination of factors including an ageing workforce, foreign nationals leaving due to Brexit, lack of new driver testing due to Covid, and IR35 changes to taxation that have increased costs.

The Road Haulage Association, calling for government action, said “freight rates are rising to a level that operators are finding unsustainable, and costs will have to be passed on to consumers”.

The Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) said the delay of the full reopening of the economy following lockdown should be used by the government to introduce a temporary extension of the hours drivers can work and speed up the qualification process for new drivers.

James Bielby, chief executive at the FWD, has called for Army drivers to be put on standby. “The driver shortage in the food supply chain is at crisis point, leading to massive waste and empty shelves,” he said.

ParcelHero said there was a shortfall of up to 70,000 drivers. David Jinks, head of consumer research at ParcelHero, said drivers should be better compensated and the government should work with the EU to “clear up issues around customs delays and charges”.

“Home deliveries of food and goods are already being impacted by the driver shortage, with some stores also running low on stock. We could soon be facing shortages as bad as those at the start of the first lockdown, which could mean a return to the rationing of staple foods,” he said.

“UK retailers and their supply chain partners now face a perfect storm.”

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