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UK News Downing Street says empty shop shelves 'should' be full by Christmas

18:50  11 september  2021
18:50  11 september  2021 Source:   dailymail.co.uk

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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.

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'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.'

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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.'

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.'

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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.'

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