Calls for military to be put on standby to deliver groceries

A driver shortage has triggered calls for the Army to be on standby to deliver food to convenience stores, pubs, restaurants and care homes.

The Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) says the situation has reached crisis point, leading to bare shelves and a risk of empty plates. Local convenience stores are now resorting to putting up notices warning customers of shortages due to the lack of delivery drivers.

Pub and restaurant chains are also not getting the fresh produce deliveries they expect. Supplies of beer, milk and other chilled products are being hit, while there are fears the situation might affect tanker deliveries of fuel to petrol stations.

‘Supermarket shelves and restaurant plates are going empty, and this is now a crisis of national importance.’

The Road Haulage Association said the crisis has been triggered by a combination of Brexit, which has led to a cut in European truckers, and Covid, which has seen no new HGV drivers trained for a year.

Mr Bielby said: ‘The situation has reached crisis point and it is likely to get worse as more hospitality venues open and demand increases. The Government needs to act very quickly.

‘We are concerned enough to suggest that the Government considers having Army trucks on standby to ensure there are enough vehicles and drivers to distribute food.’ FWD members supply food and drink to independent shops, restaurants, pubs, hotels and care homes.

Mr Bielby added: ‘With the estimated 70,000 shortfall in HGV drivers, some wholesalers have had to limit the number of deliveries they make to convenience stores which has led to some availability issues.

‘The product manufacturers who supply into the wholesale channel have similar issues with drivers, and our members reporting particular difficulties getting soft drinks, beer, and chilled products like cream, cheese, yoghurt and meats.’

The government extended the hours that professional delivery drivers are allowed behind the wheel during the pandemic, however this ended recently.

The FWD has asked the Government to re-instate this and make Army drivers available to deliver to vulnerable communities.

A sign erected in the window of a Budgens store at Great Blakenham, near Ipswich, in Suffolk, reads: ‘Due to a national shortage of delivery drivers we are experiencing cancellations in deliveries resulting in low stock around the store. Thank you for patience and support.’

Dairy giant Arla said: ‘There is a real crunch this Summer because of Covid causing a backlog of new drivers passing their tests, changes to tax rules, some drivers from EU countries returning home, some others on furlough and other factors. Like many others in the industry we are seeing costs go up and we’re working hard to limit the effect this will have on prices.

‘There has been a growing shortage of haulage drivers for many years. It is really important that we attract many new drivers into the sector.’

The managing director of Nationwide Produce, which supplies fruit and veg to major restaurant chains and retailers, Tim O’Malley, said: ‘The acute shortage of HGV drivers is now the direct cause of perfectly good, graded and packed fresh produce being dumped or left rotting in cold stores, waiting for wheels to go under it.

‘Supermarket shelves and restaurant plates are going empty, and this is now a crisis of national importance.’

Source: Daily Mail