Tesco warns empty shelves could get 10 times worse before Christmas – a real challenge

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In recent months, supermarkets have struggled to fully stock shelves due to delayed and missed deliveries caused by the pandemic. Unfortunately, it does not seem likely this issue will be resolved ahead of Christmas. In the run-up to the festive holiday, the problem could get worse if Britons begin to panic buy.

Many Britons stocked up on essential items ahead of the first national lockdown last year.

As a result, shelves in some supermarkets were empty and many have remained that way due to multiple reasons.

Both Brexit and the pandemic are to blame for a shortage of drivers in the UK, which has led to deliveries to supermarkets being delayed or missed.

Drivers who were EU citizens but worked in Britain have returned to their native countries over the past few months.

This has meant the country currently has a shortage of around 100,000 drivers, according to the Road Haulage Association (RHA).

This is up from a shortage of around 60,000 in February 2020, before the pandemic.

Supermarkets could see its customers panic buying again during the run-up to Christmas, Tesco has warned.

The retailer is concerned this will contribute to the food industry’s current supply crisis.

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To resolve the issue, Tesco has called on the Government to temporarily make it easier to bring in workers from abroad.

The supermarket giant is short of 800 drivers, therefore it needs all the help it can get to deliver groceries to its customers.

Andrew Woolfenden, Tesco’s UK distribution and fulfilment director, said it has not managed to attract as many drivers as it needed despite having offered a £1,000 recruitment bonus to new starters since July.

Mr Woolfenden claimed the problem was industry-wide and described efforts by companies to recruit from the same, small pool of drivers as like “moving deckchairs around”.

He added: “Our concern is that the pictures of empty shelves will get 10 times worse by Christmas and then we’ll get panic-buying.”

A Tesco spokesperson said: “We have good availability, with deliveries arriving at our stores and distribution centres across the UK every day.

“While the industry-wide shortage of HGV drivers has led to some distribution challenges, we’re working hard to address these and to plan for the months ahead, so that customers can get everything they need.”

As Mr Woolfenden noted, driver shortages are impacting many companies, including Amazon.

Katherine Mercer, Amazon’s public policy manager for the UK and Ireland, said driver recruitment attempts were “back at square one” and Christmas will be “a real challenge”.

A spokesperson for Amazon said: “The festive season is always our busiest time of the year and, as we do every year, we’ll be working to provide the best possible service for our customers.”

A Government spokesperson also commented on the issue, saying: “We recognise business is facing a range of challenges and we are taking steps to support them, including streamlining the process for new HGV drivers and increasing the number of driving tests.

“Progress has already been made in testing and hiring, with improving pay, working conditions and diversity.

“We are closely monitoring labour supply and working with sector leaders to understand how we can best ease particular pinch points.”

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