Driver shortage threatens food supply chain

A national shortage of HGV delivery drivers could threaten food supply to pubs, restaurants and care homes without government intervention, a trade body has warned.

The Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) has suggested the government use army drivers to deliver to vulnerable communities after the driver shortage reached “crisis point” for some of its members.

Food wholesalers are experiencing severe difficulties delivering to both retail and foodservice customers due to an estimated 70,000 shortfall in HGV drivers.

Among the causes are a slowdown in recruitment due to Brexit, a backlog of driving tests due to the pandemic and a large number of drivers still on furlough.

“The driver shortage has reached crisis point for some of our members and we believe it is likely to get worse as more hospitality venues open and demand increases,” said FWD Chief Executive James Bielby.

“Wholesalers have tried engaging agencies but these are also short of drivers,” Bielby added. “The product manufacturers who supply into the wholesale channel have similar issues with distribution and our members are reporting particular difficulties getting hold of soft drinks, beer, and chilled products like cream, cheese, yoghurt and meats.”

The FWD has asked the government to re-instate the temporary extension of drivers’ hours, from 9 to 11, which was in place last year but ended recently. Other proposals put forward include ending furlough for HGV drivers, temporarily waiving requirements for medical certificates and using army drivers to deliver to vulnerable communities.

Without some form of government support there are concerns that the entire food supply chain could falter, according to the FWD.

In a sign of the impact the shortage is having, Morrisons this week ended wholesale supply to independent convenience stores due to a lack of drivers to distribute goods.

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