The list of companies going public about facing supply chain issues just keeps getting longer - Greggs, Iceland, the Co-op, Nandos, KFC. We are now fully in “crisis” territory, with many across the food industry expecting problems to stretch towards Christmas and beyond.
There is certainly safety in numbers; the brands can line up behind each other to put pressure on the government. With last Christmas having been disrupted by Covid – another factor, alongside Brexit, in the lorry driver shortages that are helping create the shortages – the government can ill afford more nationwide issues this year.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats are also lining up to tell Boris Johnson to do something. Ministers should not ignore the fears over Christmas shortages, even if some Brexiteers might look to play them down as summer fears that should have little impact come winter.
Dealing with driver shortages through a recruitment drive will take time – and even easing immigration rules, so some EU citizens who left the UK during Brexit can return and help fill gaps in the workforce. will not have an instantaneous effect.
The chief executive at the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), talking to The Independent, accused the government of being “in denial” about the workforce shortages. While there is clearly a priority issue at the moment – the evacuation of people out of Afghanistan – ministers will need to talk about the way these issues will be solved at some point soon. Pressure will only grow.
There are broader aspects to consider, as my colleague Ben Chapman writes, about pay and working conditions for those in the lorry-driving trade. These have clearly all fed into the pressure being felt at the moment – but will take time to fix. However, now would be a good time to take a look at the industry as a whole, rather than just shorter-term issues like a backlog of tests for potential drivers.
I would argue that Johnson’s government has made it through a number of crises thanks – at least in part – to them not cutting through with the public outside Westminster. But things that hit people in their homes will always be a bigger risk.
Shoppers will be able to see shelves without products, menus without items – and certainly would feel it if Christmas plans were disrupted. Any move to play these issues as red tape that will get sorted would be massively undermined if shortages continue in the medium to long term.
Whether you want to blame Covid-19, Brexit, longer-term industry issues – or a mixture of all three – it is not a problem that the government can hope to fix quickly in the background. Answers, and action, will be required – and Johnson and co will have to provide them pretty swiftly.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies