UK: No bread, water and meat – food is running out

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DBrits can’t satisfy their appetite for a milkshake at McDonald’s these days, regardless of whether it is strawberry, vanilla or chocolate. The fast food giant had to take the milk mix drinks and a selection of other products out of the range due to delivery problems.

The restaurant chain Nando’s, known for its chicken dishes, had to close 45 of its 450 branches last week after the chicken supply stagnated. The bakery chain Greggs also warns its customers that products will be missing for a few days due to problems with the procurement of ingredients.

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At first glance, the inconvenience is manageable, but it has been going on for weeks. One supermarket chain temporarily lacks bottled water, another part of the meat range, restaurants shorten their opening times because deliveries do not arrive.

Industry representatives warn. Even the Christmas business is in serious danger, says Richard Walker, managing director of the icelandic frozen food retailer. “Christmas is just around the corner and in retail we are actually starting to build up stocks for this incredibly important time from September.”

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Boris Johnson (M), Prime Minister of Great Britain, sits next to Priti Patel (r), Secretary of the Interior of Great Britain, in the convention center during the British Conservative Conference and holds out his thumb after the speech by the UK Treasury Secretary Javid.  +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

Life beyond the EU

It is currently out of the question, 30 to 40 deliveries that are intended for direct sale are canceled every day because there are no truck drivers. Bread was in short supply at times, and recently only half of the soft drinks were delivered. “We are now warning that Christmas was canceled at the last minute last year, and it would be terrible if this festival were also problematic.”

John Allan, chairman of the board of directors at the largest grocer, Tesco, also warned of shortages in the Christmas range because there was a lack of capacity to build up stocks. There are considerable gaps in warehouses, and not just in the food trade.

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There are problems not only on the island

According to data from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), inventories in the manufacturing sector have fallen to their lowest level since the survey began in the mid-1970s.

Business surveys indicate problems with deliveries and replenishments in numerous countries, not least in Germany. For one thing, the pandemic continues to affect supplies. Closed ports in China, reduced production in Southeast Asia, and scarce material for electronic components are having an impact worldwide.

On the other hand, companies in Germany also complain that they cannot fill jobs because there is a lack of applicants. This effect is reinforced in individual industries by the fact that people reoriented themselves during the lockdown and are now working in new professions.

But there is another component in the UK. “Now that the Covid restrictions are lifted, we see a clearer reflection of the effects of Brexit and of problems from the time before the pandemic,” said Andrew Sentance, a former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, the Guardian.

The new immigration rules that have been in place since Great Britain left the EU are particularly noticeable. It is estimated that more than a million EU citizens have left the country since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic.

In the meantime, moving in has become much more difficult. There are still opportunities, especially for well-educated people with the prospect of high salaries. In addition, a tight contingent is provided for selected sectors in which there is a shortage of workers.

Truck drivers, the absence of which is responsible for numerous delivery problems, do not belong to this group, much to the displeasure of Richard Burnett, executive director of the Road Haulage Association (RHA). Burnett estimates that around 100,000 drivers are missing in the country.

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Strict immigration rules and a pandemic problem

A fifth of this is due to the emigration of EU citizens, which has exacerbated a long-smoldering problem. For weeks, the RHA has been campaigning for at least temporary workers to be allowed into the country from the EU. “We need a pool of labor quickly because we can’t train enough to fill the gap,” said Burnett.

In addition to the strict immigration rules, a pandemic problem strikes: driver’s license tests were canceled for months. For now, the permitted driving times for truck drivers have now been extended by one hour. In addition, drivers of the armed forces are ready.

But the staff shortages go far beyond the transport sector. Food processing is particularly affected, another area in which employees from EU countries have traditionally played an important role.

One of the largest processors of chicken meat, 2 Sisters Food Group, warned last week of a “chronic” shortage of labor that would mean that deliveries would have to be canceled.

“We are facing a significant shortage of production workers who are classified as low-skilled by the Home Office but who play an incredibly important role in keeping food deliveries going and feeding the country,” said a letter from British Poultry Council to Interior Minister Priti Patel.

Weekly deliveries are currently ten percent behind demand. Up to a fifth of turkeys could be missing for Christmas.

The consequences of Brexit cannot be remedied quickly

Meanwhile, pig farmers complain that an overhang of 70,000 animals has accumulated because the slaughterhouses are lacking staff. Parts of the animals that are more laborious to cut are no longer on the market. Now there is a risk of slaughtering without further processing because there is not enough space on the farms.

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James Withers, managing director of the Scottish food association Scotland Food and Drink, speaks of “big, flashing warning signals”. 93 percent of the members currently have problems filling vacancies. 97 percent expect the situation to get worse.

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Boris Johnson in a pub in Wolverhampton in April: Not everyone in the British economy is convinced of his plans to relax the rules

British economy worried

The hospitality industry, the construction industry, logisticians, health service providers, they all complain of significant staff shortages that have long been hampering business operations. More and more companies are resorting to special payments to lure employees. The retail giant Amazon is offering up to £ 1,000 when the contract is signed. At British Gas, engineers can hope for £ 3,000; Specsavers is worth up to £ 10,000 for a new optician.

It is much more than a short flash in the pan, says economist Sentance. “The situation could last a lot longer than many expect. The shortage of skilled workers could last for a few years, the effects of Brexit on our ability to attract workers from the EU cannot be remedied quickly and training and further education has been severely affected by the pandemic. “

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Despite all the bottlenecks, most economists have so far left their forecasts for economic development unchanged. Too many questions about the duration and severity of staff shortages and delivery problems remain unanswered.

“The great uncertainty is what will happen to goods prices given the many tensions in global supply chains that are likely to linger for a while,” said James Smith, an economist at ING. The Christmas business should provide a lot of evidence for this – if things go well.

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