Boris Johnson calls in ex Tesco boss amid claims senior Tories have started panic buying

Boris Johnson has appointed former Tesco CEO as a supply chain advisor to both resolve the immediate crisis of a number of UK industries and prevent future chaos.

It comes amid claims reported by the Financial Times and Mail Online that several senior Tory figures have been spotted as “panic buying” – and it turns out roughly one in six adults in the UK has not been in in the past fourteen days able to buy essential groceries.

Last week, industry leaders warned there would be gaps on supermarket shelves this Christmas, and Rishi Sunak said he could not “wave a wand” to tackle supply chain problems.

Now Sir Dave Lewis, who stepped down from Tesco last September after turning his fortunes around following his major accounting scandal, will work with the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Stephen Barclay.

According to the National Statistics Office (ONS), 17% of adults said they could not buy such goods because they were not available.

Almost a quarter (23%) said the same for non-essential foods.

Mr. Johnson said, “There are global supply issues right now that we are working with industry to resolve, and Dave brings a wealth of experience that will help us continue to protect our businesses and supply chains.”

Number 10 said Sir Dave would work on both immediate improvements and necessary long-term changes to the UK goods supply chains, and will work with government officials to resolve acute, short-term issues quickly.

A statement said this would include “both identifying the causes of current blockades and preventing potential future blockages, as well as advising on solutions either through direct government action or through industry with government support”.

Sir Dave, who will serve in the Cabinet Office and was appointed by the end of the year, will also co-chair a new Supply Chain Advisory Group and the new Industry Task Force.

He starts in the role on Monday.

No. 10 said: “Companies have faced a number of challenges in the past few months as they recover from the global pandemic that has impacted supply chains across Europe and around the world.

“The government has acted quickly to take a number of measures to ease pressure on vital supply chains, including streamlining truck driver testing, setting up boot camps to train truck drivers, and introducing short-term visas for fuel drivers, food hauliers and poultry workers to ease the pressures these supply chains face. “

Earlier, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News that “we are at the end of the line with fuel pressures.”

He said problems were over in “most of the country” and that London and the South East were the only two areas “where we see any persistent problems”.

He added that around 3,500 people applied for provisional truck registrations in the past week.

Meanwhile, footballer Marcus Rashford said that some of the panels he works with have had shortages.

He told BBC Breakfast: “They struggle to do what they love to do because there is a lack of food and of course we have to find an answer to that, and quickly because you know the people are out there and they need meals and especially in winter. “

The ONS analyzed responses from 3,326 adults between September 22nd and October 3rd as part of its opinion and lifestyle survey.

She asked about the experiences of people with bottlenecks in the past fourteen days.

Overall, 57% said everything they needed was available.

One in seven (15%) could not buy fuel.

Six in ten respondents said their grocery shopping experience was different than usual – 43% said there was less variety and 14% had to go to more stores to get what they needed.

A fifth said they couldn’t find the items they needed but could find a replacement, and another fifth said they couldn’t find a replacement.

Adults also reported waiting longer for prescriptions (13%) or going to more pharmacies to find what they needed (4%).

There will be gaps on supermarket shelves at Christmas, industry leaders have warned, as Rishi Sunak said he could not “wave a wand” to tackle supply chain problems.

The Chancellor said the government would do everything in its power to “alleviate” global supply problems, but admitted that disruption would occur and did not rule out that Christmas would be affected.

For the first time, around 200 military personnel – half of them drivers – are out on the streets to distribute petrol on the forecourt.

Around 22% of gas stations in London and the South East are still running out of fuel, according to Petrol Retailers Association executive director Gordon Balmer.

And although ministers insist that the situation at the pumps, which has led to queues and panic buying, relax, Operation Escalin was launched on Monday.

Members of the armed forces arrived at the Buncefield Oil Depot in Hemel Hempstead to deliver fuel to gas stations, with soldiers in uniform and face masks spotted near the gates to the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal.

However, Downing Street said the speed at which the crisis subsided will depend on demand.

There is a shortage of labor in a number of sectors, including meat processing.

And it has raised warnings that Christmas favorites like pigs in blankets may not be available to shoppers this year.

Visiting a Network Rail location in Manchester with Mr Sunak on Monday, the Prime Minister said supply chain problems are “a function of the global economy, particularly the UK economy, which is being brought back to life after Covid”.

“There is a shortage of truck drivers around the world, from Poland to the United States, and even in China there is a shortage of truck drivers,” he said.

And he added, “I think what we are seeing is the recovery of the economy.

“We now have the fastest growing economy in the G7 and I think we have a lot lower unemployment than people are predicting, jobs are being created all the time.

“What we want to see are high paying, high quality jobs and I think the economy is doing a fantastic job investing in apprenticeships, investing in skills and that is the way to go for the UK.

“When it comes to things like road freight transport, it is important to make the job more attractive, to invest in the truck stops and also to invest in higher wages.”

No. 10, however, said there was no “hard deadline” for when the transition to the “high-wage, high-skilled” economy promised by the prime minister would be completed.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It is not a tough deadline for us, considering that it will cover a number of different sectors.

“Of course we would like to support sectors as needed to facilitate this transition, as you are currently seeing with things like truck drivers and other sectors like poultry.”

Earlier on, Sunak told BBC Radio 4’s Today program, “We see supply disruptions, not just here but in many different places, and there are things we can try to mitigate, and that’s us.

“But we can’t wave a wand. There is nothing I can do about a country’s decision in Asia to close a port because of a coronavirus outbreak. “

Pig farmers protested ahead of the Conservative Party Conference Monday when industry leaders called for a Covid recovery visa to allow businesses to recruit from outside the UK.

Nick Allen, chairman of the board of directors of the British Meat Processors Association, said he was “surprised” that Mr. Johnson appeared unaware of the problems pig farmers face when interviewed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday .

Mr Allen told Sky News that the Christmas turkeys this year are likely to come from the continent due to the labor shortage in the UK after Brexit, adding that some foods, such as pigs in blankets, may not be available.

“We’re not saying there won’t be any food on the table for Christmas, but we’re struggling to put the party food together – the pigs in blankets, the ham net,” he said.

However, the Morrisons supermarket chairman said the concerns were “a little exaggerated”.

Andy Higginson told BBC Radio 4’s Today program: “There are logistical problems right now and these are well publicized and a little exaggerated.

“UK supply chains are incredibly efficient and I am sure that over time we can give customers a great Christmas.”

The Prime Minister has repeatedly refused to rule out bottlenecks in the overall economy in the run-up to Christmas.

In addition to an estimated shortage of 100,000 truck drivers, companies from meat producers to retailers are warning of empty shelves if the bottlenecks are not addressed.

Mr Johnson acknowledged that the country is going through an “adjustment phase” after Brexit that has cut the EU’s labor supply.

However, he insisted that he was unwilling to resolve the situation by using “the great lever of uncontrolled immigration” to take on more foreign workers.

He said companies should make sure their employees are “paid decently” if they want to get more staff.

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