Business groups have warned that a combination of Brexit, resulting in a mass exodus of HGV drivers, combined with pandemic-related staff shortages in manufacturing will mean there are shortages of goods this Christmas and urged consumers to get orders in “nice and early” this year or risk missing out. Scottish toy retailers have warned that they are already seeing signs of shortages, with suppliers contacting them to say that certain toys could be in short supply as the festive period approaches.
There is current shortfall of around 90,000 HGV drivers which is placing increasingly unsustainable pressure on retailers and their supply chains, driven by an estimated 25,000 EU drivers returning to their home countries over the pandemic.
A spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses Scotland said: “While skills and labour shortages are being reported across the economy, the shortage of HGV drivers is making it difficult for many firms to make the most of the fragile recovery.
“A number of industry groups – including FSB – have made constructive suggestions to government both to address the current problem and to prevent us from facing similar problems in the future. These include temporary work visas granted to EU drivers and action to get UK drivers qualified quicker.
“However, we also know that the pandemic alongside other factors continues to disrupt global supply chains. These factors are obviously out of the control of local and independent firms, therefore we’d urge consumers to be as understanding as possible. So, for example, it wouldn’t hurt in the run-up to Christmas getting yours orders in early to local businesses.”
Donald Nairn, owner of Toys Galore in Edinburgh’s Morningside district, said that most suppliers had already increased their prices ahead of anticipated shortages and increased costs.
"At least half of them have increased the prices they're charging us and although we'll do our best to absorb it, invariably there will be price rises, I think, in the second half of the year," he said. "They're also having problems with delivery drivers and other knock-on effects from both Covid and Brexit.”
He added: “We are basically ordering as much stock as we possibly can right now so we have stuff to sell at Christmastime.
"Certain things I anticipate will be in incredibly short supply, like Barbies for example. It's very hard to pinpoint exactly where the problem is going to be but I think if we do as much as possible now, we should be in a reasonably good position going into Christmas, that said, there will be shortages."
Ewan MacDonald-Russell, head of policy at the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC), said: “The ongoing shortage of HGV drivers allied to ongoing challenges with global shipping has created some minor disruption to supply chains. These issues are currently being managed by retailers working closely with suppliers to ensure consumers remain able to access the same wide range of products.
“Ensuring shops are ready for Christmas is a key priority for the industry. Already retailers are taking every step within their power to mitigate the potential challenges, including paying extra to secure HGV drivers, and bringing non-perishable goods in early, or via alternative routes, to avoid a last minute rush on shipping. Nonetheless, the challenges the industry are facing are genuine, and the earlier government is able to take action the better. For consumers, we would always advise it’s best to be planning Christmas shopping nice and early – especially now so many shoppers choose to shop online.”
The SRC, alongside sister organisation the British Retail Consortium and Logistics UK have written to the UK Government to call for action over the situation. They want the government to review the decision not to grant temporary work visas to HGV drivers from the EU, ensure that Government skills and training schemes support the recruitment of HGV drivers and permanently increase testing capacity to avoid delays at the border.
The letter said: “The impacts on retail supply chains are now starting to be felt and we are concerned that already the situation is getting worse.”
It added: “Throughout the pandemic, HGV drivers have been the backbone for the economy, keeping the nation’s businesses and homes stocked with the goods and services they need. We need BEIS to work with us to ensure the government provides a clear road map and tangible support for industry to ensure that our stores can continue to provide what the country needs every day.”
Last week, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association warned that as well as a lack of staff availability, pubs and restaurants are facing problems with the supply chain, which could potentially result in a shortage of beer and even crisps. On top of the beer delivery issues, there are also concerns about CO2 and nitrogen gas supplies, which are necessary to serve products on tap.
A UK government spokesperson said: "We recently announced a package of measures to help tackle the HGV driver shortage, including plans to streamline the process for new drivers to gain their HGV licence and to increase the number of tests able to be conducted.
"We have also temporarily relaxed drivers' hours rules to allow HGV drivers to make slightly longer journeys, but these must only be used where necessary and must not compromise driver safety."