Gridlocked ports hurt retailers as no-deal Brexit looms
As if UK retailers didn’t have enough to contend with, there are warnings that current gridlocks at container ports and packed Channel crossings are expected to get worse in the run-up to Christmas and beyond.
Concerns are further intensifying as Sunday’s Brexit talks deadline draws closer and without a deal in sight, they only add to the existing problems.
A host of British retailers including fashion chains Primark and River Island are understood to have raised the alarm about a massive logjam at docksides.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and groups representing the UK’s ports, shipping and logistics sectors are now appealing to transport secretary Grant Shapps for help.
The government has so far relaxed rules limiting lorry drivers' hours amid growing fears of late deliveries as ports are hit by Covid-related disruptions and stockpiling ahead of Brexit.
Meanwhile, French authorities have said around 8,000 trucks a day are estimated to be crossing the Channel in each direction, 30% higher than usual.
In a joint letter to Shapps, nine logistics trade groups, including the British Ports Association and the Road Haulage Association, have asked the government for help and warned of further potential disruption in January.
Retailers are said to be reporting week-on-week shipping cost increases of 25%, with carriers also adding additional “congestion charges” on shipments to offset berthing delays and longer unloading times in the UK.
BRC director Andrew Opie told The Guardian newspaper that retailers were “working overtime to rearrange and redirect incoming freight in order to ensure customers can get the items they need, but some delays appear inevitable. The last thing the public needs is disruption at the ports continuing into the New Year at a time when Brexit will already put the Channel crossings under much greater pressure”.
Opie also told The Telegraph: “The UK is currently facing significant challenges shipping in many goods from countries around the world, particularly those from the Far East, such as China. These problems have been compounded by the increase in demand from retailers ahead of both Christmas and Brexit, exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic and the large shipments of PPE”.
In recent weeks the congestion at Felixstowe, the UK’s biggest container port, as well as other locations has already caused major disruption to supply chains.
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