Words by Connor Drescher, Staff Writer
Boris Johnson has denied that there is a crisis amid an acute shortage of workers, particularly HGV drivers.
The ongoing issues, which have seen petrol pumps running dry across the country due to panic buying, have sparked fears that a national shortage of goods and essential items could cause further disruption in the run up to Christmas. Farmers on Tuesday began putting down hundreds of healthy pigs due to a shortage of abattoir and butchery workers, and have warned that this could be only the beginning of a mass culling.
Speaking during an interview with Radio 4, the Prime Minister said ‘What you’re seeing…in the supply chains, is the stresses and strains of a giant waking up’ – referring to the restarting of the global economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Johnson says that the current status of the economy is a global problem, a predictable consequence of the huge disruption to international and local trade caused by the pandemic.
Despite calling the UK supply chain ‘fantastic’ and placing his faith in those who work in logistics to ‘sort these problems out’, (Boris Johnson, channel 4 news, midland hotel manchester – tory party conference) he repeatedly refused to rule out shortages in the approach to the Christmas season.
The PM instead insisted that the problems with driver shortages were the fault of the Road Haulage Association not providing enough names of drivers for the government to grant visas to, referring to the 5000 extra short-term visas the government had promised to entice drivers back to work in Britain.
Rod McKenzie, Managing Director of Policy and Public affairs at the RHA commented that ‘’There isn’t a database of lorry drivers with names attached to them and want to work in Britain that British lorry firms can tap into and say: ‘We’ll have that one, that one, that one or that one.’ It doesn’t work like that, it doesn’t exist – The only way it works is the Government advertises that short-term visas are available, Europeans think about it, decide whether they want to or don’t want to, and act accordingly. And, clearly, only 127 to date have acted accordingly.”
He added that “It is not an attractive offer and, effectively, what Europeans have done is kind of vote with their feet on that.”
These remarks come as reports indicate that only 127 of the 5000 promised visas have so far been taken up, with 27 for fuel tanker drivers and the remaining 100 being applied for by food haulers. Industry leaders across the UK from Hospitality to farming and retail have warned of possible shortages over the winter season, putting pressure on the government to act.
The chair of the Labour party, Annaliese Dodds, said that Johnson is “so out of touch that he can’t see a crisis when it’s staring him in the face”, amid recent reports of essential workers being unable to find fuel to get to work.
Though the short-term petrol crisis appears to be easing, she insisted that this crisis was ‘made in Downing Street’ and that it was up to the Prime Minister to ‘sort it out’.