Too cold for frozen food? Ice halts Tesco deliveries

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The Independent Online

Major supermarkets and retailers halted all online orders in parts of the country yesterday as they tried to cope with the chaos caused by the bad weather with more bleak conditions forecast for this week.

As Royal Mail announced that it was recruiting 3,000 temporary staff during the icy weather, other retailers admitted they were having to make "unprecedented" decisions, as they struggled to deal with the backlog at a traditionally frantic time of year.

Scotland was hardest hit, with Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda all announcing that they had halted or suspended deliveries. Meanwhile Marks & Spencer said it was not accepting any home delivery orders for Scotland because its warehouses were full of a backlog of parcels.

Much of the north was brought to a standstill last week, with hundreds of people stuck in vehicles overnight or forced to abandon their cars.

Yesterday there appeared little hope of respite as forecasters predicted that another band of snow would sweep across the country on Thursday with temperatures due to plummet to -10C.

Once again, north-east Scotland and eastern England were expected to take the brunt of the Arctic conditions.

With an estimated £6bn spent online over the festive period, the delivery debacle left many fearing presents would arrive too late.

Tesco said its priority was to deliver groceries and ordered goods, but stopped all non-food orders for Scotland and said it could not guarantee Christmas deliveries. The supermarket took the drastic step after its courier company, Yodel, said it was battling to clear a 14-day backlog of parcels.

Sainsbury's suspended deliveries for Scotland and parts of north-east England, while Asda Direct warned it was unable to deliver large items, such as furniture, to Scotland, North East England or Kent before Christmas, or take orders for in-store collection in the north. Boots said it had temporarily ceased its next-day service and suspended deliveries in Scotland.

The online shopping sites Amazon and Firebox was no

longer offering next day delivery but said it guaranteed that goods ordered now would arrive for Christmas. Both John Lewis and Argos said they were contacting customers whose deliveries had been affected.

Parcel Force said after "an incredible effort by our drivers" to clear a backlog in the north and London, it had started to accept deliveries again but only until 17 December.

"If we accept more parcels for the affected areas it will make recovery from the current position exceedingly difficult," said the company.

The Home Delivery Network warned its packages might be later than normal, while both Virgin and Laithwaites wine companies said they could not promise Scottish delivery before Christmas.

Meanwhile Royal Mail said it had invested an extra £20m to cope with the icy conditions, adding thousands of extra staff and hundreds more lorries. However, it has been forced to suspend its next-day guarantee for special deliveries.

In a rare move, 6,500 post workers delivered to around one million addresses on Sunday.

Mark Higson, managing director of the Royal Mail, said: "We are pulling out all the stops to deliver this Christmas. The worst December weather the UK has seen in almost 30 years has had an impact on our services to some parts of the country. With this additional £20m investment, we are committed to ensuring we deliver letters and packets as quickly as possible."