It’s ‘a pretty good year to get organised early for Christmas’

A reduction in the number of lorry drivers after Brexit has already seen many supermarkets struggling to fill their shelves.

It’s ‘a pretty good year to get organised early for Christmas’ Peter Byrne/PA via PA Wire
Retailers have warned Scots this is a ‘pretty good year’ to be organised for Christmas.

Supply shortages and rising prices mean this is a “pretty good year” for shoppers to get organised early, retailers have insisted.

A reduction in the number of lorry drivers after Brexit has already seen many supermarkets struggling to fill their shelves.

The Road Haulage Association warned MSPs on Holyrood’s Economy Committee that this situation was unlikely to improve in the short term.

Meanwhile, Ewan MacDonald-Russell of the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) pointed out to the committee that industry prices for for items such as toys and electrical goods were “coming up”, adding that “those kind of prices I suspect will be passed along” to shoppers.

Shoppers are already seeing empty shelves in stores (Mike Egerton/PA)Mike Egerton via PA Wire
Shoppers are already seeing empty shelves in stores (Mike Egerton/PA)
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Asked how the problems retailers are experiencing could impact on families’ festive celebrations, he said: “I think we have been quite candid, if people are preparing for Christmas, this is a pretty good year to be organised on your Christmas shopping.”

He told how problems in the haulage industry had “provided huge structural challenges in keeping stores stocked”.

As a result he said shoppers “might see a certain product line won’t have the range and choice”.

Mr MacDonald-Russell, the SRC’s head of policy and external affairs, continued: “That’s something that’s happening at the moment … but we may have to live with in the run-up to Christmas.

Haulage bosses have highlighted a shortfall in drivers (Niall Carson/PA)Niall Carson via PA Wire
Haulage bosses have highlighted a shortfall in drivers (Niall Carson/PA)
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“And something that frankly becomes harder as we come into Christmas, because volumes going into stores go up.”

He told how retailers were “absolutely desperate to get every product into store” for the crucial Christmas sales period, which he said was the “big trading period of the year”.

But he added: “There are huge international challenges, shipping costs are up, shipping has been disrupted by the pandemic and other things, it is a huge global challenge.

“But when you combine it with the problems with HGVs, and with the ongoing economic challenges, it is going to be really hard.”

His comments came after Martin Reid of the Road Haulage Association told how the industry had been dealing with a major shortage of drivers before Brexit and Covid hit.

He added that there were “very few supply chains that are not affected in one way or another” by this lack of drivers.

And he said: “I don’t see things improving any, certainly for the short term.”

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Mr Reid told the committee that prior to January 1, when the full impact of Britain’s departure from the European Union was felt, the industry had a shortage of between 50,000 and 60,000 drivers.

Adding that there had been “about 15,000 EU nationals working in and out of the UK” at this time, he told how “some of them went home with no intention of coming back, others it was difficult for them to come back”.

Covid also impacted on the situation, with the number of HGV tests able to be carried out falling from about 75,000 a year to about 35,000 a year.

With a pass rate of just over 50% Mr Reid said this too had added to the shortfall of drivers, along with the aging workforce.

“The average age of an HGV driver is about 55 years old,” he said.

“So we have a lot of leavers, whether that be through finding another career, whether it be retirement or through ill health.

“And it has traditionally been difficult to attract new blood into the industry – only two per cent of HGV drivers are under 25 years old.

“These are all factors that have come to a head.

“But at the minute maybe 85% to 90%, maybe more than that, of every thing that is delivered, consumed, worn or eaten spends some time in the back of the truck.

“So the shortage that the industry is feeling is being felt right the way through many, many supply chains.”