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Acute warehouse staff shortages ‘concern’ ahead of Christmas, warns food sector

·3-min read
Food bosses have raised concerns over warehouse staff shortages (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)
Food bosses have raised concerns over warehouse staff shortages (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

Food and hospitality bosses have warned MPs that there are “no guarantees” over Christmas deliveries and raised concerns about “acute” warehouse staffing issues ahead of the key festive period.

It came as members of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee questioned industry bosses over the impact of current labour shortages in the food sector and supply chain.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality, told MPs, that the UK’s hospitality sector is currently seeing 10% vacancy rates, representing a shortage of around 200,000 staff across the UK.

She said firms in the sector have been hit by a “double whammy” of staff shortages within their own venues as well as shortages within their supply chains.

Ms Nicholls said this therefore means hospitality operators will struggle to provide customers with the service they “would like” over the Christmas period.

“I don’t think we can give the hospitality we would like to around Christmas because we would like to be operating at full strength and full capacity and not turning away business,” she said.

“In our supply chain, we are getting around 80% fulfilment. So, 20% of all products in all deliveries are not being delivered and we can’t really say what it is.

“Our supply chain cannot give us any guarantees at the moment about Christmas deliveries and that everything will be delivered at the right place, at the right time and at the right price.”

The trade body boss added that cost inflation is also weighing on the sector but that many postponed Christmas bookings from last year might result hold off price increases for customers until after the festive season.

She added: “You are going to see a really intense squeeze on margins in the run up to Christmas and then the inevitable impact that will be felt by consumers, is there will be significant cost inflation coming through the supply chain and coming through to consumers, most likely after Christmas.

“But some businesses have said they are foreseeing three sets of price increases by April.”

Meanwhile, Tom Southall, policy director at the Cold Chain Federation, warned that warehouse staff shortages are a cause of concern ahead of Christmas.

“It is particularly in warehousing that we are concerned about at the moment,” he said.

“We are having reports from members that warehousing is becoming quite an acute issue in the run up to Christmas.

“It’s a bit more tricky to understand shortage rates there, but between 10% and 20% are some of the figures we have been quoted there.”

Speaking to the committee, Mr Southall also said he was not aware of any cold storage firms who have been contacted by the Government since pledged to fund cold storage for meat in recent weeks.

It comes after UK butchers sent pig carcasses to the EU for butchering before being re-imported due to the labour shortages.

He said: “This time of year, cold storage is in demand and particularly last year was very full, as you can imagine with Christmas produce.

“We are concerned about where than 15,000 tons of pork meat is going to go.

“We’ve offered support, we have the support of our members but as it stands, we have no details of that scheme and how it will roll out.”

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