Tesco is advising customers to expect the return of panic buying in the run-up to Christmas as bosses call on ministers to help end the lorry driver deficit.
The supermarket giant announced it was currently experiencing a shortfall of about 800 HGV drivers as it urged the Government to relax restrictions on foreign workers to help ease the supply chain crisis.
Despite being the United Kingdom’s biggest supermarket chain, offering new workers a £1,000 bonus since July, Andrew Woolfenden, Tesco’s distribution and fulfilment director, warned they were still unable to make up the lost numbers.
Nationally, food supply chains have been put under extreme pressure because of a deficit of about 100,000 HGV drivers, with empty racks across most UK supermarkets as a consequence.
Slamming the problem as industry-wide, Andrew Woolfenden compared companies frantically seeking to hire from a limited pool of expert drivers to moving deckchairs around.
He warned ITV News that their concern was that the images of bare shelves would get ten times more serious by Christmas and then they’ll get panic buying.
Despite gaps appearing on supermarket racks across the nation this summer, customers are yet to see a return of full-scale panic buying that was endured at the start of the pandemic.
However concerns are continuing to grow should demand abruptly rise again, with replenishing empty racks already a problem for most major UK retailers.
Trade association Logistics UK has called on ministers to provide up to 10,000 temporary work visas for qualified EU drivers to paper over the cracks.
The Government has so far denied these calls, instead insisting firms recruit from a pool of British workers.
It comes as shorter, fast-track HGV tests have been mooted as a possible answer to help plug the spiralling vacancies in the haulier industry.
Industry experts say better pay and improved working conditions are required to further improve staffing levels and put the deficit mostly down to Brexit and the pandemic, which led to 14,000 European drivers going home and just 600 of those returning.
The Road Haulage Association said the total number of people in the United Kingdom with HGV licences this summer is 516,000. But the latest Department for Transport data reveals 278,700 HGV drivers were employed in 2020, equal to 54 per cent of the total.
The crisis, which has also been made more acute by COVID-related delays to testing new drivers, has seen supermarket racks across the nation go empty as companies strive to restock their merchandise.
In short, prices will be going up again, and then some, and the last time inflation was high, the Tories were in charge. They can’t seem to run the economy for the vast preponderance of the public – only for their monied friends.
If this crisis goes on, they will have to ration people, as they did in World War II.
What the government should be doing is encouraging people to pass their HGV licence, which means they would have to put cash in the pot for that kind of thing, but it seems the only way so that people who want to work can get the aid they need from Boris Johnson, that way we would have more lorries on the road, and no deficits because sometimes you have to invest to speculate.
The other problem is that there are UK lorry drivers with an HGV licence but they refuse to take a reduction in wages.
This is a real head-scratcher, but here’s a mad idea, pay them more than minimum wage and accept that costs have to go up to support a salary that makes it an attractive career.