There will be gaps on supermarket shelves this Christmas, industry leaders have warned, as Rishi Sunak said he could not “wave a magic wand” to fix 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.
Workers at the Buncefield oil depot known as the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal in Hemel Hempstead (Joe Giddens / PA)
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.
Mr 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.
“But rest assured that we are doing everything in our power to alleviate some of these challenges.”
He added, “It is reasonable that people expect us to do what we can.
“But we cannot wave the magic wand and make global supply chain challenges disappear overnight.
“As for the butchers, my understanding is that they are actually on the list of shortage occupations we already have.”
Pig farmers protest ahead of Conservative Party conference in Manchester (Stefan Rousseau / PA)
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.
National Farmers’ Union President Minette Batters said: “You are protesting outside and you are angry, upset and extremely upset.
“You have asked for this, we have called for the introduction of an emergency plan, a Covid recovery plan, in order to avoid precisely this scenario.”
Nick Allen, chairman of the board of directors of the British Meat Processors Association, said he was “surprised” that Prime Minister Boris Johnson seemed unaware of the problems pig farmers are facing when speaking on the BBC show The Andrew Marr on Sunday Show was interviewed.
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.
“But I suspect that food can be imported and the turkeys are probably not British turkeys but French or even turkeys from further afield.
“We’re not saying there will be a desperate shortage, but there will certainly be no selection of British food, that’s for sure.”
Empty shelves in the meat aisle of a Tesco store in Liverpool (Peter Byrne / PA)
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 pulling “the big 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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