Many of the problems facing the economy relate to Britain’s shortage of 100,000 lorry drivers – 96% of logistics businesses are having problems recruiting, and businesses are starting to run short of warehouse staff, van drivers, mechanics, technicians, forklift drivers and transport managers, according to Logistics UK. It said that19,000 HGV drivers have left the UK because of the pandemic and Brexit and 45,000 new drivers have not been able to take tests due to Covid.
Ministers were forced to deploy army tanker drivers to help fill petrol stations last week, as the transport fuel crisis pushed into its third week. The shortage, prompted by a lack of lorry drivers and by panic buying, has affected London and the south-east most severely. Fuel is now more generally available, but 12% of petrol stations in the region were still without fuel last Thursday, according to the Petrol Retailers Association.
Gas and electricity bills went up £139 on average in October, and will rise again unless wholesale prices of natural gas fall. Customers may pay up to £600 more per year, and National Energy Action warned last week that the number of families struggling to heat their homes could rise by 1.5 million to 5.5 million. So far 12 energy firms have gone bust this year.
Gas bills are not capped for businesses, which led to fertiliser factories shutting down last month, creating a carbon dioxide shortage. Steel, glass, paper, ceramics and other heavy industrial manufacturers say they may be forced to stop production – which could mean the permanent closure of some plants.
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Shelves in shops and supermarkets have been emptying. One in six adults have been unable to buy essential food items in the past two weeks, according to the Office for National Statistics, and nearly a quarter said they had not been able to buy other non-essential items. People are also waiting longer for prescriptions. The government has appointed a supply chain adviser but logistics firms believe the problems will get more severe in the run up to Christmas.
With about 2 million job vacancies to fill already, employers have started scrambling for about 100,000 temporary staff to fill Christmas roles, with Royal Mail, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Amazon, Morrisons and John Lewis looking for staff. Ministers appear to have pinned their hopes on the end of furlough last month, which removed support for about 1 million workers on the scheme.