What should we do about supply chain disruption?

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On one day recently around 2,000 petrol stations had run out of at least one type of fuel. And at thousands of others, there were long queues as drivers tried to fill up.

Fuel disruption is one aspect of the shortage of lorry drivers. Fuel exists, but it can’t be delivered to petrol stations to meet demand (especially when demand increases).

The drivers’ shortage is also hitting supermarket supplies and patients are facing delays to their prescriptions and shortages of ­over-the-counter drugs because of a lack of deliveries.

Uncontrolled immigration is not the answer to supply chain problems

In a TV interview with Andrew Marr before the Tory conference, Johnson acknowledged that disruption to some supplies could continue until Christmas, but said the only short-term solution was to resume uncontrolled immigration, which would be wrong.

What we can’t do … in all these sectors is simply go back to the tired, failed old model, reach for the lever called ‘uncontrolled immigration’, get people in at low wages. And yes, there will be a period of adjustment, but that is, I think, what we need to see in this country.

Asked whether labour shortages and the associated disruption they caused were an inevitable part of his Brexit policy, Johnson did not disagree. He said: “When people voted for change in 2016, and when people voted for change in 2019, they voted for the end of a broken model of the UK economy that relied on low wages and low skill, and chronic low productivity. And we’re moving away from that.”

Better the one sinner who repenteth?

It’s not often that we agree with a Tory Leader but here he is right. Pat Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity Union, commented:-

The Tories helped bosses drive down pay by attacking trade union organisation, outlawing some strikes, allowing fire and rehire and implementing a public sector pay freeze. If they are now saying they want a higher valued and higher skilled workforce many things will have to change. 

Importing foreign labour is not a long-term solution problem. The disruption to supply chains starkly illustrates how over-reliant we were on foreign labour in essential economic sectors. Solidarity has long argued that we should train UK workers to do these jobs.

I welcome the announcement by the Department for Education that it will be investing up to £10 million to create “skills boot camps” for up to 3,000 new British HGV drivers. Another 1,000 will be trained through local courses. It doesn’t go far enough, however. Logistics UK estimates that what is actually needed is about 90,000 HGV drivers. Supermarkets alone require an additional 15,000 HGV drivers to operate at full capacity ahead of Christmas. The government must do far more to support training.”

“My view is that the disruption to our supply chains is the result of a number of different factors: the effects of Covid-19, Brexit (and particularly poor planning to mitigate negative consequences) and partly about factors causing similar shortages across large parts of Europe.

I believe we can weather the storm and take prudent measures nationally and as consumers to lessen effects. In the longer term, we can emerge stronger as a nation and offer hope to our own people of a reasonably paid job.

So what “prudent measures” does Solidarity advise its members to take? 

  • Don’t panic buy but slowly build a small surplus of essential consumer goods. We suggest a month is achievable.
  • Order items that require delivery early for Xmas
  • Source gifts locally – it is better ecologically and economically anyway
  • Wherever possible buy UK made goods
  • Send gifts earlier than usual – they don’t have to be opened till Xmas
  • If you are in an insecure job or one you don’t like think about retraining – the change and disruption also provides an opportunity

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