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HGV crisis: ‘Scared’ shipping bosses say imports surge and driver shortage could see toys | UK | News

The Grinch that stole Christmas now comes in the shape and form of a shortage of lorry drivers and dock-workers, as the race is on to find more staff before a backlog of goods sees more stock remaining stuck at sea.With a normal turnover of three days now at a frustrating ten days to collect and deliver containers, some of the biggest ships coming into the UK are having to spend up to a week docked at sea, waiting for a delivery slot time.

Now the port operator that runs Southampton and London Gateway, Dubai-based DP World, has claimed it needs to double its workforce from 56,000 to 100,000 in just three months to have a chance of tackling the problem.

Chairman of the group, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem warned a shipping conference in the UAE that port chaos across the world is set to continue and keep disrupting global supplies.

“These are the complications. Nobody knows how long it is going to take. I think it’s going to take a long time,” he said.

With Christmas fast approaching, the race is on across the UK to buy toys and gifts before they run out, amid fears of more panic-buying.

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Already shoppers are being warned by retailers to order gifts immediately to avoid disappointment come December.

Predictions suggest that the most popular items are going to be the most affected, with toys, games consoles, smart phones and gadgets feeling the burden, as well as chocolates and Christmas trees.

Such is the shortage of drivers in the UK to help remove the incoming supply of containers from ships, that Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company has now diverted its fleet of ships away from Felixstowe, which is Britain’s busiest port, to Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Maersk boss, Lars Mikael Jensen said: “We’ve taken those measures because we saw, because of the big ships, there is a limit to how many berths they can call in Felixstowe, and because its slower, it took longer to handle every ship.
“Instead of wasting time waiting, we progressed to the next stop, and arranged that the boxes are relayed from that port rather than wait for a week and then discharge.”

The backlog is causing major frustration at ports. Adam Searle of CP transport said to The Telegraph: “My guys in the office are pulling their hair out every single day and are working extended hours just to try and deliver what our customers need. I’m scared for the final rush to Christmas.”

Some customers are turning to air freight and cargo to get their goods in, however, the significantly higher price for such services will undoubtedly be felt in the price of the goods for end consumers, with prices set to skyrocket as a result.

With the UK government promising to tackle the issue through the recruitment of HGV drivers from Europe, Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party, Oliver Dowden reluctantly admitted that of the 300 drivers who had applied for a temporary working visa in the UK, only 20 of them were on the roads of Britain.

The driver shortage is not limited to the UK, with reports emerging from around Europe of a similar crisis.

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Explaining just what items may fall short this year, Peter Wilson, the managing director at the Cory Brothers shipping agency said: “We import so much into the UK by container on these shipping lines, so it’s from white goods to your Christmas toys, and we include food goods with this as well, so it could be a real mixed bag of items.”

Speaking of the impact on Christmas, Mr Wilson said: “I think you know, Christmas, the toys, the goods will be the significant big selling point as we build up to Christmas and I think that’s where we’re going to get pinch points.”

Despite some companies turning to air freight, the method does come with its own problems.

“It’s possible there simply won’t be enough aircraft able to cope with the expected last-minute demand that has characterised the final quarter in previous years, although we are confident that there are just about enough solutions out there,” said Dan Morgan-Evans, cargo director at Air Charter Service to the Guardian.

Britain’s labour shortages are being blamed for the backlog, with one whistle-blower saying: “I’m fed up with this. Year on year this port never has enough staff to cope with high demand.”

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