From supermarket shortages to dry gas pumps, how the truck driver crisis shaped 2021
As we bid farewell to 2020, it seemed reasonable to assume that the sight of empty supermarket shelves – which shocked so many at the start of the pandemic – would be one less thing to fear in 2021. Yet over the course of the 12 In recent months, the nation has experienced shortages of a vast array of commodities.
This list includes everything from Walkers crisps and McDonald’s milkshakes to Nintendo Switch game consoles and Christmas toys to gasoline and diesel. And that’s just to start.
Shortage of truck drivers
While the blame for the toilet paper shortage in 2020 may be blamed on consumers looking for an extra pack or two to overcome them, the rush for goods this year is the result of supply chain issues, to both national and global. At the heart of it is the shortage of truck drivers in the UK and the international sea container crisis.
When I started reporting the shortage of heavy truck drivers in June, the extent of the problem was still not clear to many – gaps were appearing here and there on some supermarket shelves, but most people could get what they wanted. needed.
But transport companies, drivers and food suppliers were certain things would get worse without government intervention.
At that time, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) estimated the shortfall at around 65,000 drivers, but that figure grew to around 100,000 in a matter of weeks.
Brexit and bad conditions questioned
According to the RHA, it was Brexit – which prompted thousands of EU truck drivers to leave the UK – and a lack of training and driving tests during the pandemic that led to the ‘shortage desperate ”.
Many drivers I spoke okay, but they also highlighted how other factors, including the introduction of the IR35 tax changes in April, which led companies to reclassify agency drivers as employees, resulting in a reduction wages, had prompted a large number of people to leave the industry.
And many drivers pointed to the poor working conditions they suffered, including the lack of toilets on the road, dirty gas stations and being the target of thieves, as well as poor wages, as the reasons. loss of earnings.
Food is wasted
The decreasing number of drivers able to transport goods from ports, warehouses and suppliers to their intended destination has resulted in tons of fresh produce wasted, with food spoiling before arriving at stores or supermarkets rejecting loads in due to their reduced shelf life.
Tim O’Malley, the boss of a supplier, Nationwide Produce, said this summer: “It’s a worsening crisis… deliveries are not going to supermarkets. The products are prepared, packaged, ready to go and are not delivered.
Elsewhere, Tesco suppliers claimed they were forced to throw in nearly 50 tons of fresh food – enough to fill two trucks – every week.
Shipping container shortages – and price hikes
The global shipping container crisis is adding to the problems caused by the shortage of drivers in the UK.
Supply chain systems around the world were thrown into chaos at the onset of the pandemic as, with declining demand and the Covid epidemics halting production and port closures, many ship trips were made. canceled. Shipping containers, many of them in China, remained behind, leading to congestion at some ports.
As countries, including the UK, emerged from lockdowns, demand for goods increased, leading to intense competition for space on ships. Ocean market freight rates have reached record highs – in the 12 months leading up to August costs jumped over $ 10,000 (£ 7,500) per 40-foot container, up from around $ 2,000 (1,450 £) in some cases. I spoke to retailers who have been quoted as high as £ 23,000 for a single shipping container.
These rising costs have led retailers to raise prices, or in some cases cancel orders, meaning more shortages in the UK.
Plan B for Christmas toys
With Christmas on the horizon, the toy industry has warned that some of the products considered the season’s must-have items are likely to be in short supply.
The British Toy and Hobby Association stressed that buyers would not be faced with empty toy stores, but said retailers could not count on being able to ship more of the more popular items once stock ran out. would be exhausted as they usually would. As toy industry leader Alan Simpson, managing director of the Toytown chain, said, kids might just have to settle for a “plan B or plan C” gift this year.
In early November, the same day the toy industry released its official forecast for the best-selling toys and games this year, the analysis of I revealed that many products were already listed as either out of stock or out of stock at some of the country’s largest retailers. Retailers themselves have insisted that some of these products will be back in stock in the coming weeks but could not say when.
The shortage of heavy truck drivers added to their woes, as even when shipments arrived, they often ended up languishing in ports for days instead of being quickly dispatched to warehouses and stores.
Logistics experts believe shipping costs will return to normal, but it may take a year for the market to recover.
Line up for fuel
The shortage of truck drivers also had a ripple effect on fuel availability in the fall. Thousands of gasoline pumps across the country ran dry in September and October due to shortages.
Retailers claimed there was no shortage of fuel in the UK, but the lack of drivers available to transport petrol and diesel to forecourts across the country meant hundreds of service stations sprang up. private.
Concerned motorists have been forced to refuel their tanks “just in case”, compounding the problem. Hundreds of military personnel were deployed to drive tankers and availability gradually improved, but the driver shortage was far from over.
Government measures to reduce delays for heavy goods vehicles
The government has proposed several strategies to alleviate the crisis – some have been better received than others.
In July, Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps announced a temporary waiver of safety standards on driver hours, allowing carriers to spend more hours on the road than normal. The truck drivers said they were “fiercely opposed” to this. Raising the maximum time they are allowed to be behind the wheel from 56 hours to 60 hours per week would lead to more traffic accidents, they said.
“We are already working very long hours,” said a driver based in Bury I at the time.
“Drivers [will be] driving tired [and] be pressured to make additional deliveries. You are going to have unpleasant accidents… This is not the solution.
Other proposals, such as speeding up the training and testing process, have been better received. In September, the DfT announced that an additional 50,000 truck driving tests would be made available each year, shortening the application process and the tests themselves.
Under the new test system, drivers will only need to take one test instead of two to drive both a rigid truck and a semi-trailer, and motorists will no longer need to take the test. another test to tow a trailer or caravan.
Skills bootcamps and reserved training
Earlier this month, a nationwide series of free “skills training camps” aimed at attracting more heavy truck drivers to the road began. Individuals who successfully complete the training sessions will be able to obtain their license and be “ready to go” in 16 weeks or less. There are 11,000 places available in the program.
However, the road ahead is not clear of obstacles. Indeed, there seems to be another item to add to the list of goods in short supply in the UK: vehicles with which to train future drivers.
On the day of the program’s launch, a training company reported that the number of participants exceeded the number of vehicles available for teaching.
“We’re full until April and we’re not alone,” said Paul Moon, CEO of 2 Start.
“From top to bottom of the country, [training providers] are complete.
He added: “It’s a good position for us, but we can’t get enough vehicles. “