The government’s emergency program to issue temporary visas to thousands of lorry drivers is far insufficient to resolve the UK supply chain crisis and is unlikely to attract them to the UK, warned heads of transport.
Downing Street on Saturday night confirmed hastily compiled plans to add 5,000 truck drivers and 5,500 poultry workers to a visa program through Christmas, to help the food and fuel industries in the event of shortage.
However, even as the plans were officially announced, Marco Digioia, the president of the European Association of Motor Carriers which represents more than 200,000 trucking companies across the continent, told the Observer that “much more is needed” than a temporary relaxation of immigration rules. “There is a shortage of drivers all over Europe,” he said. “I don’t know how many would like to go to the UK.”
Andrew Opie of the British Retail Consortium said the 5,000 limit “would do little to make up for the current shortfall”.
Critics emerged as the supply chain crisis spread:
Paramedics and caregivers were hit by queues for gasoline, following reports that some forecourt had not received expected gasoline deliveries.
There have been warnings that up to one in five deliveries may not reach major supermarket chains on time or not at all.
Polls suggested that a majority of voters, including 52% of Leave voters, believed Brexit was partly to blame for the crisis.
Digioia said wages for European drivers were generally higher than in Britain; new EU rules have improved working conditions; and billions of euros had been offered to finance parking lots and support businesses.
“The UK doesn’t have access to any of this,” he said. “Trying European drivers to get back to the UK when they also have to deal with the reality of customs and border controls, all the uncertainties of Brexit… We have to be realistic.
Higher wages, and perhaps tax incentives, could help in the short term, he said, but “a lot of money is being thrown on this whole problem in Europe right now. There is a level playing field, and none of the Brexit hassles ”.
The government said on Saturday evening that it planned to train up to 4,000 people to drive heavy trucks, with the help of military examiners to speed up the process; and letters are sent to recently retired drivers urging them to return to work.
Senior industry officials have said there will now be a battle between UK companies to hire drivers as companies less able to pay find themselves running out of workers. Sources said there were already large companies at risk.
Warnings were also issued on Saturday evening that a looming shortage of short-term workers needed to meet fall demand for food preparers and preparers would intensify the crisis.
Two-thirds (67%) of voters think the government has mismanaged the crisis, according to a new Opinium poll for the Observer. Even a majority of Conservative voters (59%) thought the government had reacted badly. The majority (68%) said Brexit was partly to blame, including 88% of remaining voters and 52% of exiting voters.
In addition to insufficient deliveries to supermarkets, the acute difficulties encountered by the hospitality sector are expected to worsen.
Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, said there could be as many as four million people who were available for business early last year but are no longer in the potential workforce. . He warned of another pinch point in a few weeks, when agency staff would be needed to keep up with the peak in demand in the fall and Christmas season.
“I’m absolutely certain that when we get to the end of September and start looking at the crucial role of agency workers in the Christmas rush, there won’t be enough of them,” he said.
“The government needs to come up with a pretty quick resolution on the truck drivers. The question then is, if you call them, will they come?
“I think the only way to find out is to do it. But then you enter into what is a pretty obvious competition as to which industry, which company, who can pay the most. One in five hospitality orders from suppliers fail. I guess several supermarkets are in a comparable position, which is why there are shortages on the shelves, ”Wright said.
Ambulances and hospital staff were also reported to be affected by gasoline queues, after some gasoline retailers said fuel deliveries were unable to reach some forecourt. The South Central Ambulance Trust said on Friday its staff “joined the lines with others to refuel, which sometimes took a long time.”
Matt McDonnell, general manager of Medicare EMS, which has a fleet of ambulances, said several crews struggled to get fuel on Saturday. “This morning we had a team that drove for over an hour,” he said. “They found a garage that had an inscription saying ’emergency vehicle access only’. But our crew was rationed to just 30 liters of fuel.
A crew member on emergency duty in the east of England posted an angry message on Facebook on Friday. Jennifer Ward wrote: “Imagine having to go to 5 DIFFERENT gas stations to get diesel for your AMBULANCE. It was also reported that workers at a care company in Kent were unable to reach people’s homes due to lack of gasoline. There are serious warnings about the impact that rising prices, rising energy bills and the upcoming reduction in universal credit will have on low wages. A typical low-income family with children could see their income drop by more than £ 20 a week over the next six months due to the ‘triple whammy’, according to the Resolution Foundation think tank.