A ‘perfect storm’ of the current coronavirus NHS app ‘pingdemic’ and existing labour shortages in the haulier industry has resulted in a supply-chain breakdown and caused many British supermarkets to have empty shelves. This has prompted new worries that a repeat of early-pandemic panic-buying could happen again.
The Road Haulage Association has issued statements saying that the UK’s exiting of the EU has contributed to the shortage, with the industry already having a 60,000 shortage of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers before the pandemic. Aside from Brexit causing a drop in applications to drive HGVs on UK roads, the testing at UK-EU borders has also been blamed, with lorry drivers having to pause their journeys to be tested.
So, a shortage of lorry drivers, who are then being held up and sometimes stopped and replaced at the border, combined with low supermarket staff levels due to workers being ‘pinged’ and told to self-isolate, has resulted in both a shortage of goods arriving at delivery points and a shortage of people to take those goods from the delivery points to the shelves.
Notably, there is no evidence that the actual supply of the products that are out of stock has been significantly harmed, meaning this whole situation is more a matter of logistical troubles and the consumer-end of the supply process being hampered due to staff absences. Tesco last week reported that 48 tons of food is currently being left to rot as fresh goods meant for their stores are not being transported from the warehouses to the supermarkets due to this shortage of lorry drivers.
Due to this being a logistics problem, as opposed to a manufacturing or procurement problem, perishable goods like fresh produce, meat or dairy are most affected, with delays in transport resulting in items missing their sell-by-date before making it to the shelves. This will of course be detrimental to the producers and manufacturers who will lose out on a chunk of their revenue. What’s more, on the consumer end, anxiety is also building. According to GlobalData’s latest Q2-2021 consumer survey, 38% of UK consumers are still extremely or quite concerned about visiting on-trade stores – as concern around food security continues to grow, more consumers might look to stockpiling again as a means to reduce their store visits.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwateng is expected to release a list of industries that will be exempt from self-isolating in the event of an NHS app ‘ping’. This will not, however, be a blanket exemption for whole industries, with individual companies having to apply to government departments to get the go-ahead. However, with almost 620,000 people pinged in the last week, it is likely that rules for key sectors such as hauliers and supermarkets will be towards the front of the queue.
Since the economy has reopened over the last few months, it is no surprise that those now most at risk of catching covid are those in retail and hospitality. There is mounting pressure from industry figures on the government to speed up the rollout of exemptions for key industries.
It should also be noted that the hospitality and service industry, currently enjoying a boom after the 19th July reopening, is set to suffer as a result of this as well. Already experiencing its own staff shortages due to staff isolations, shortages of perishables such as fresh vegetables and meat will give already-short-staffed restaurant kitchens further trouble.