Shoppers told to plan ahead for Christmas amid port delays

The boss of a global shipping agent has told shoppers to plan ahead for Christmas because of UK ports delays.

Peter Wilson, from Cory Bros, said people should order items in a “timely fashion” to ensure they arrive in time.

Shop shelves would stay stocked, but there may be less choice, he said.

Meanwhile, the UK’s biggest commercial port Felixstowe said shipping container congestion had been easing in recent days after ships were diverted from the port because of bottlenecks.

The Port of Felixstowe, which handles 36% of the UK’s freight container traffic, told the BBC that it currently has 50,000 containers which are waiting to be collected, due to a shortage of HGV lorry drivers.

“It’s not the port of Felixstowe affecting the supply chain it’s the supply chain affecting the port of Felixstowe,” it said, adding that the problems are “similar at all major UK ports”.

Danish shipping giant Maersk was forced to divert some of its larger ships to ports in Holland and Belgium Dutch to avoid delays.

The Association of British Ports, which runs 21 ports including Southampton and Hull, said it is “aware of the challenges some UK ports are facing”.

However, it said that its ports are currently” running without any delays or disruption to services”.

Cory Bros’s Mr Wilson said; “I can say completely, categorically that supply chain will not fail and that goods will be on the shelves through Christmas.

“There just may not be that absolute choice we’re all used to,” he told the BBC’s Today programme.

The problems come at the busiest time of the year for retailers, when most goods are imported from Asia to sell during Christmas trading.

Mr Wilson added that there will be “considerable strain” on the UK’s supply chain this Christmas and urged shoppers to “be sensible, think ahead, plan appropriately” to get items such as toys in time for Christmas.

‘Don’t panic’

But Tom Holder from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said that while port congestion and the driver shortages will cause “some disruption this Christmas,” the impact on shoppers should be limited.

“It is a concern but retailers are really adept at making sure they prioritise the things people want and making sure people’s Christmas favourites are available to buy.”

Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, said there is “no need to panic buy” but advised customers to start their normal shopping process earlier.

“If you see something you want, now is the time to buy as retailers have most of their Christmas stock, but we can’t guarantee having supplies of everything over the next few weeks”.

“It’s a challenge for small retailers because they don’t have the cash to stockpile,” he added.

IMAGE SOURCE, GETTY IMAGES
Industry bodies estimate there is a shortage of about 100,000 drivers with a number of sectors from retailers to domestic refuse collection affected.

The shortage has been caused by several factors, including European drivers who went home during the pandemic, Brexit, tax changes and a backlog of HGV driver tests.

The UK Ports Association trade group, said most UK ports were operating normally but that the shortage of drivers was having an impact.

“This has meant that some freight is not being collected as rapidly as it would normally. The situation is impacting all types of ports, not just container terminals.

“It has resulted in some further delays for a range of ports and terminal operations are working with their customers to get these goods out of their ports to avoid further congestion,” it said.

The government recently drafted in military personnel to help with the driver shortages and deliver fuel. Emergency temporary visas have also been issued to foreign drivers.

However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently admitted that just 127 HGV drivers had applied for the short-term visas.

Conservative Party chair Oliver Dowden told the BBC that the government was increasing the number of people having tests and that he would “expect that number to increase as we approach Christmas”.

Asked about potential Christmas shortages, he told Sky news: “The situation is improving, I’m confident that people will be able to get their toys for Christmas.

“Some buy people buy very early for Christmas, my wife is quite an early Christmas buyer, others buy later. I would say just buy as you do normally.”

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