Christmas and Black Friday could be severely impacted by the ongoing shortage of heavy good vehicle (HGV) drivers, according to a leading industry voice.
Shoppers could be faced with empty shelves at peak shopping seasons throughout the year with the UK facing “six to 12 months of challenge”.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Ian Keilty, chief operating officer at logistics giant Wincanton, said: “We have seen a massive step up in home deliveries, taking things into people’s houses. The Black Friday boom and the runup to Christmas is likely to be hugely challenging.
“Supply chains tend to take a while to spring back into the shape we are used to when everybody can get everything whenever they want it.
“Even that magical date in August (when double-vaccinated adults no longer need to isolate when pinged) isn’t the cure-all. We have got six to 12 months of challenge.”
It is thought that as many as 100,000 HGV drivers are needed to fill the glaring gap in supply chains across the UK, following an exodus of European drivers thanks to Brexit and the pandemic.
The government’s response so far has been to temporarily extend the number of hours drivers are legally allowed to work, a move panned by unions, and add many to the list of workers who are exempt from self-isolation if they are pinged.
Keilty has called for a “broader exemption around the driver population” to rectify the problem.
“It is a networked operation – I have drivers who might move DIY products in the morning, but in the afternoon they might be moving product into a supermarket supply chain,” he said.
“It is not hugely helpful to have a very restrictive set of exemptions in terms of getting the UK moving and keeping it fed.”
In response to growing criticism around its response, a government spokesperson said: “The British people repeatedly voted to end free movement and take back control of our immigration system and employers should invest in our domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad.
“We’re working with industry and have already taken action on HGV driver shortages, including ramping up vocational test capacity, and funding apprenticeships. We have also announced a temporary relaxation of drivers’ hours rules to allow them to make slightly longer journeys, which must only be used where necessary.”