Britain is suffering from a supply chain crisis. It probably won’t end anytime soon

Grumpy-type warnings about looming Christmas dinner threats and holiday shopping shortages are starting to mount in Britain as a supply chain crisis slowly spreads across the country.

At his turkey farm in Danbury village, about 75 kilometers north-east of London, Paul Kelly has 57,000 turkeys for sale ahead of the holiday season.

Kelly predicts a scramble to make sure they all end up on the tables at the British dinner party.

“Without workers at packing stations, there is no Christmas,” he told CBC News at his KellyBronze farm.

The UK meat and poultry industry relies on overseas workers to keep processing plants running through the busy pre-Christmas season and right now they are missing between 15,000 and 25,000 people. , according to the British Meat Processing Association.

“As of January 1, [when Brexit came into effect] we no longer had access to the team of people from Europe to help us pluck the turkeys, ”Kelly said.

The KellyBronze farm near Danbury, north-east London, has 57,000 turkeys. Most of them are for Christmas dinners. (Chris Brown / CBC)

Several weeks ago, UK shoppers first noticed a shortage of soft drinks in stores due to a lack of CO2. Then McDonald’s ran out of milkshakes.

But the reality of supply chain problems only really started to kick in when up to 75% of service stations in England ran out of fuel two weeks ago.

Even now, the Petrol Retail Association says 13% of service stations in London and the south-east of England remain empty.

This week, British Army drivers were enlisted to make deliveries.

A delivery driver fills the pumps at an Esso station experiencing fuel shortages in St. Albans, England on September 29, 2021. (Peter Cziborra / Reuters)

“We do not die of hunger, there are no riots in the streets. But on the other hand, it’s getting harder to get deliveries, to launch construction projects, harder to buy things in stores and fill your car, “said economist Jonathan Portes of King’s College. from London to CBC News.

“Some of the complex cogs of a modern economy just aren’t working the way they should.”

Now is the turn of UK agricultural sectors to feel the effects, as they attempt to overcome a triple whammy of logistical bottlenecks, a shortage of workers in processing plants and a shortage of truck drivers to deliver the goods.

Not unexpected problems

“It’s been a construction crisis for the past 18 months – two years really,” said Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association.

Allen said some UK pig farmers were already forced to slaughter their animals in their barns because they lacked space to keep the pigs because understaffed processing plants are unable to accept new deliveries.

Butcher Troy Dickerson prepares to butcher a lamb in London’s Hampstead. Britain is short of butchers and workers in processing plants. (Stéphanie Jenzer / CBC)

The challenges and supply chain disruptions the UK faces this autumn are not unique – the entire European continent is running out of truck drivers and an increase in demand for sea containers has stretched shipping fleets global.

But Britain’s departure from the European Union, which only started 10 months ago, is clearly exacerbating problems in the UK, Portes said.

“There is no doubt that Brexit has made some of these problems worse.”

The government of Tory Prime Minister Boris Johnson has responded by generally downplaying the seriousness of the problems.

In interviews, Johnson has suggested that the shortages and logistics safeguards were largely attributable to a “giant wake-up call” in the post-COVID UK economy, with intense consumer demand outstripping efforts to revive things.

COVID restrictions have also made it more difficult to train new workers – especially truck drivers – which has exacerbated the labor shortage and hampered fuel deliveries to gas stations.

No more barriers

But Portes said the most relevant factor is that Britain’s labor pool has suddenly shrunk because it no longer has access to so many European workers.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester on Wednesday. (Toby Melville / Reuters)

“Brexit means greater barriers to trade and migration flows between the UK and the rest of Europe,” he said.

“This is not a disaster for the UK economy. We will continue to trade with Europe, but it will be more difficult and more expensive.”

Kelly, the turkey farmer, said supply chain issues would lead to perverse results in the coming weeks, such as possibly more European turkeys sold in the UK than UK turkeys.

He said processing plants tend to plan months in advance and with no certainty about their workforce, many have cut back on turkey sales to UK grocery stores.

Instead, Kelly said, he expects big chain stores to look to European turkey suppliers if they run out.

“It’s a crazy situation [importing French turkeys for a British Christmas] – the irony is incredible. ”

Turkeys gather just before mealtime at KellyBronze Farm. (Chris Brown / CBC)

The Johnson government has said it will issue up to 5,000 temporary visas for European truckers to work in the UK and there may be more temporary visas for farm workers – but in a major speech on Wednesday, the Prime Minister rejected the idea of ​​reinstating a more open visa. scheme to help the UK weather the crisis.

“The answer to the current tensions and tensions which are primarily a function of economic growth and recovery is not to achieve that same old lever of unchecked immigration,” Johnson told party members at the annual convention. conservatives in Manchester.

Portes said the shortages and hardships the British are facing right now are probably just the beginning.

“In the longer term, the UK economy will have to adjust to lower levels of migration from Europe. It is not the end of the world, but we will have to live with the consequences.”

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