The festive season may be months away, but major retailers usually start stocking up for Christmas in September.
This year, however, the government’s “Brexit hubris” means it is refusing to allow EU-based drivers to return and end Britain’s HGV driver shortage, according to David Jinks, head of consumer research at international delivery firm ParcelHero.
He told City A.M. this morning that the government is “refusing” to address the year-long customs and supply issues that have beset British companies trading with the EU.
“British shoppers will have a smaller choice of gifts and food this Christmas and will have to pay more for those items that they can get. Retailers have been making their Christmas lists and checking them twice for months,” Jinks explained.
“Now is the time goods and components from the EU normally start arriving in warehouses and stores, as manufacturers and retailers organise their Christmas supply chains. This year, the Government is refusing to acknowledge and tackle post-Brexit chaos,” he added.
Shortfall of 100,000 drivers
Jinks recalled that, last October, his frim predicted a shortfall of 100,000 truck drivers and warehouse workers, after most non-skilled EU citizens returned to their home countries in the wake of the Brexit vote.
“This has already led to empty supermarket shelves this summer and high-profile shortages hitting the likes of Weatherspoons and McDonalds,” he said.
“Last week, the widely-respected British Retail Consortium pleaded with the Government to allow EU drivers to return on temporary visas as skilled workers, but the government refused to acknowledge Brexit’s role in the shortage,” Jinks continued.
The ongoing labour shortage created by Brexit is also underlined by the Government’s own findings. Its latest BICS survey reveals that 40 per cent of all businesses reported a decrease in the number of EU workers at the end of the EU transition period.
The government, however, stressed that it want to see employers make long-term investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad.
Nevertheless, Jinks said this means that “the inconvenient truth is that Christmas is happening now for retailers and manufacturers.”
The Government is also demonstrating “an ostrich-like denial” of its own figures, he argued.
The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS) reveals that over 50 per cent of businesses engaged in trading overseas have experienced increased challenges since Brexit took effect on 1 January. That figure has remained largely unchanged throughout this year.
However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a speech in June: “With control over our regulations and subsidies, and with freeports driving new investment, we will spur innovation, jobs and renewal across every part of our country.”
“That is certainly not obvious in the run-up to Christmas,” Jinks hit back. “We can already identify several favourites that will be more expensive or in short supply this Christmas. British toy industry bosses have complained about the “insane” price hikes in shipping goods into the UK, thanks to Brexit and a worldwide lack of shipping containers.”
It is quite likely that many of our favourite Christmas foods may be missing or more expensive. Frozen food store Iceland’s chief executive, Richard Walker, told the BBC last week: “We’ve already had one Christmas cancelled at the last minute and I’d hate this one to be problematic as well.”
Alluding to Brexit, he said that Iceland starts to build stock from September onwards: “We’ve got a lot of goods to transport between now and Christmas and a strong supply chain is vital for everyone… It’s a self-inflicted wound.”
Moreover, pigs in blanket, that perennial Christmas favourite, will be one of the casualties as Nick Allen, Chief Executive of the British Meat Processors Association, warned that a labour shortage means the industry is “well behind” on preparations for Christmas.
“You’d normally start to prepare pigs in blankets and gammons at the beginning of July and they’d go into the freezer and come out at Christmas time, but we’re six weeks behind and not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel,” he told the Daily Mail.
“The shelves aren’t going to be empty but it’s hard to see how there won’t be shortages of these things and the choice will get less,” Allen concluded.