The Guardian

Drink firms say driver shortage threatens Christmas supplies

- Rob Davies

Britain is facing a Christmas alcohol shortage unless the government does more to address the lack of HGV drivers, a group of 48 wine and spirits companies have told the transport secretary.

In a letter to Grant Shapps, businesses including Pernod Ricard, Moët Hennessy and the Wine Society said rising costs and supply chain “chaos” had held up wine and spirit deliveries, raising the risk that supermarke­ts would run dry and festive deliveries arrive late.

Members of the Wine and Spirit Trade Associatio­n (WSTA), which coordinate­d the letter, have reported it is taking up to five times longer to import products than a year ago, with two-day orders taking more than two weeks to process.

Freight costs have increased by about 7%, the WSTA said, as delivery firms have had to raise HGV drivers’ wages to retain them, causing particular difficulty for small businesses that struggle to compete on salaries with larger rivals.

Drivers and vehicles are increasing­ly unpredicta­ble in their arrival times, according to WSTA members, meaning goods are either not ready or are left waiting for collection.

The drinks companies called on Shapps to extend a temporary visa scheme for HGV drivers, which expires in February 2022, to a year.

They also want the government to step in to help smooth congested freight routes from ports, and to provide more regular updates on how many HGV driver licences are being processed by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).

Miles Beale, the WSTA chief executive, said: “There is mounting concern amongst our membership that unless urgent action is taken, we will fall deeper into delivery chaos. We are already seeing major delays on wine and spirit delivery times which is pushing up costs and limiting the range of products available to UK consumers.

“Government needs to be doing all it can to ensure British business is not operating with one hand tied behind its back over the festive season and beyond.”

The alcohol industry is the latest in a long line of sectors to warn of possible Christmas shortages amid supply chain difficulti­es, with concerns also raised about deliveries of turkeys, trees and toys.

Yesterday, the chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, a trade body representi­ng the temperatur­econtrolle­d logistics industry, told MPs to expect a reduced range of food items available this festive season.

Shane Brennan told the Commons transport select committee: “It’s not about shortages, it’s about simplifyin­g. Having less range obviously is one of the key decisions you can make in trying to make supply chains more efficient. And it’s about reducing the amount of goods you’re expected to put on the shelves and then working with the customer base to actually make that clear.

“We are very good at piling high and selling cheap at Christmas time. What we have to do is strategica­lly scale that back in order to meet the promise that there will be the stuff you expect to see on the shelves, but not necessaril­y all the extras.”

The supply chain is facing a number of pressures, such as drivers leaving the industry and difficulti­es recruiting new ones, border issues and delays with the movement of shipping containers.

The Department for Transport was contacted for comment.

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