Retailers and food manufacturers call for inquiry into ports chaos

Retailers and food manufacturers have called on MPs to investigate congestion at container ports.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) claim they face “major challenges” in building up stock for Christmas and the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.

In a joint letter to the chairs of the Commons Transport Select Committee and the Commons International Trade Committee, they wrote that some shipping costs have more than doubled compared with last year.

One food manufacturer has suffered lost sales worth more than £1 million due to a shortage during the crucial festive period, the letter stated.

The BRC and FDF want the committees to hold an inquiry into the chaos at ports and the functioning of the shipping market.

A number of issues have caused the logjam, including a rise in imports following the end of the first coronavirus lockdown, Brexit-related stockpiling and containers filled with personal protective equipment not being collected from ports.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “The lead up to Christmas is the most important time of year for retailers, ordinarily accounting for up to a fifth of the entire year’s sales and generating a large part of annual revenues.

“After a tremendously challenging 2020, many firms’ cashflows are under severe pressure, and so businesses are in no position to absorb these additional shipping costs.

“As a result, consumers will pay the final price. Christmas orders could be delayed, and retailers might be left with no option but to increase product prices.

“These issues must be addressed urgently. An inquiry would provide the scrutiny needed to help get our ports flowing freely again.”

Lorries queue for The Port of Dover along the A20 in Kent
Lorries queue for The Port of Dover along the A20 in Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA)

FDF chief operating officer Tim Rycroft added: “Food and drink manufacturers are extremely concerned about the delays we are witnessing at the ports.

“Our members are incurring costs totalling tens of thousands of pounds, and in some cases hundreds of thousands.

“It is directly impacting on the ability of businesses to build up stockpiles of products and ingredients ahead of the end of the transition period.”

Dixons Carphone revealed on Wednesday it has been affected by the congestion, with delays of up to two days for some of its goods.

But the firm said it “can handle” the delays and has been preparing for Brexit disruption for a long time.

A Government spokeswoman said: “This is not a problem unique to the UK, with ports around the globe experiencing similar container capacity issues. The Government is working closely with the freight industry to work through the challenges some of our ports are facing.

“Ports are employing more staff as well as working with hauliers to improve container collection and with shipping lines to maximise efficient utilisation of port capacity. Resilient supply chains and free flowing freight are integral to the UK economy and we will do everything we can to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.”

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