Nearly every sector of the economy in Britain is facing some sort of shortage, sparking fears of an impending Christmas crisis.
There’s an ongoing fuel shortage, caused mostly by a serious shortage of HGV drivers, and everywhere from warehouses to factories, buses to pubs, pharmacies to schools have been battered by a shortage of workers.
It doesn’t bode well for Christmas, with Ruth Gregory, a consultant at Capital Economics, telling the Mirror: “Clouds are darkening.”
At the end of last month, the managing director of Iceland supermarket warned that CO2 shortages could become a problem in the run-up to Christmas, with some food stock running low. Richard Walker told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “At the moment we are fully stocked and our suppliers are OK, but we do need this sorted as quickly as possible.”
Here’s a roundup of the current state of play in some of the key parts of the UK economy, and it doesn’t make for happy reading.
In a bid to get more lorries on the road, the UK Government has sent letters to almost anyone with a HGV licence to entice them back to work. But their plan backfired somewhat when ambulance paramedics and even firefighters received a letter offering “fantastic opportunities”, “attractive pay rates” and “flexible hours” if they swapped, the Mirror reported.
A firefighter told the Mirror: “I was quite shocked that they sent them out to everyone who’s got a licence to be honest and not checking the profession they’re in.”
The Department for Transport said: “The letter was automatically sent to almost one million people with HGV driving licences, and it was impossible to narrow the copy-list by profession.”
But life on the road isn’t quite all it’s cracked up to be, with one lorry driver revealing the shocking conditions behind the driver shortage, including details of having to poo in carrier bags.
Rod McKenzie, head of the Road Haulage Association, said: “The driver shortage is simply not going away. We need… urgent action.”
Drivers could see at least another week of fuel shortages, with the military due to start delivering fuel across the country from Monday.
Almost 200 military tanker personnel, 100 of which are drivers, will be deployed to provide temporary support as supply issues continue.
People have faced rising prices and long queues at forecourts for days now and petrol shortages are expected to carry on for another week warned Policing Minister Kit Malthouse. He told the BBC: “We are still seeing strong demand in parts of the country around fuel, albeit that there is no problem of supply into the country.
“The distribution mechanism is trying to respond to this unprecedented demand.
“My latest briefing is that the situation is stabilising, we are seeing more forecourts with a greater supply of fuel. Hopefully, as demand and supply come better into balance over the next few days – week or so – we will see a return to normality.”
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “Across the weekend over 200 military personnel will have been mobilised as part of Operation Escalin.
“While the situation is stabilising, our Armed Forces are there to fill in any critical vacancies and help keep the country on the move by supporting the industry to deliver fuel to forecourts.”
Union Usdaw has also said three-quarters of staff in filling stations have been abused in the crisis. General secretary Paddy Lillis said: “This is a crisis that was made in Downing Street but has impacted motorists and petrol station staff. Our members are telling us that the vast majority of customers have been great, but a significant minority take out their frustrations on staff.”
Warehouses are already short of 10,000 workers, and that’s before a surge in demand for Christmas.
Retailers and operators need an army of temporary staff, with online giant Amazon alone kicking off a bid to hire an extra 20,000 for its UK depots. Earlier this autumn, Amazon offered new warehouse workers £1,000 starting bonuses alongside flexible hours and pay of up to £11.10-an-hour for daytime shifts, doubling to £22.20-an-hour for overtime.
Sainsbury’s is earmarking 3,000 more online delivery drivers, as well as 4,500 in warehouses and logistics. However, firms face a battle given many temp roles were filled by EU nationals.
Clare Bottle, chief executive of the UK Warehousing Association, warned: “The problem is big.”
She said one solution is to raise pay rates: “Several members have, overnight, increased pay by 20%, and some by 30%, and many operate on slim margins.
“If the cost of the labour goes up, they have to pass it on to customers.”
Pubs and restaurants
Failure to recruit enough hospitality staff over the coming months could prove fatal for firms, an industry body has warned.
UKHospitality said the sector is already 10% short of workers – with just over 200,000 vacancies – forcing venues to close or restrict opening hours during the summer. Restaurants in the Welsh seaside resort, Tenby, were forced to shut at peak season because of staff shortages and its a problem that persists heading towards Christmas.