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Wine and Spirit businesses call time on HGV driver shortage crisis

NA | 24 November, 2021

Concerned members of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association are calling on the Transport Secretary to take urgent action over HGV driver shortages and freight disruption to avoid some of our favourite tipples from disappearing from the UK supermarket shelves.

49 of the UK’s wine and spirit businesses put their names to a letter, penned by the WSTA and sent last week, after rising costs and supply chain chaos have held up wine and spirit deliveries.

The WSTA has received multiple reports from its membership who are highlighting that importing products is now taking up to five times longer than they were a year ago.

Businesses who had previously been able to fulfil orders in two to three days are now experiencing shipments taking 15 days to process.

Costs have increased around 7% (and often more) by freight forwarders to account for driver retention. This is particularly a concern for SMEs who are unable to compete with large businesses to attract drivers.

Frustrated companies have found that drivers and vehicles are increasingly unpredictable in their arrival times, meaning goods are either not ready or are left waiting for collection.

As a particularly competitive industry, the inability to fulfil orders in a timely manner can result in the loss of business, as products can be easily replaced by comparable products from elsewhere in the world.

The WSTA and its members are calling on Government to take action as a matter of urgency to save British business from descending even further into delivery chaos.

In the letter the trade association told Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, it was imperative that he take the following steps:

  1. Extend the temporary visa scheme for HGV drivers from 28 February 2022 to a minimum of one year, to ease the burden on industry and allow for a sufficient increase in domestic drivers.
  2. Actively facilitate better routing of freight from ports (e.g., rail, river, coastal freight) and smaller UK-based driver networks for short-haul journeys, delivering Government investment and working in partnership with industry to achieve this goal.
  3. Deliver regular updates on DVLA processing HGV driving tests and licences.

Miles Beale, Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said:

“There is mounting concern amongst our membership that unless urgent action is taken, we will fall deeper into delivery chaos.  49 member companies have put their name to our letter calling on the Transport Secretary to extend the temporary visa scheme and improve transport routes.

We are already seeing major delays on wine and spirit delivery times which is pushing up costs and limiting the range of products available to UK consumers. Government needs to be doing all it can to ensure British business is not operating with one hand tied behind its back over the festive season and beyond.”

Ed Baker, Managing Director of Kingsland Drinks, said:

“Kingsland fills around 185 million bottles of wine every year, that equates to about one in every eight bottles of wine drunk in the UK per year. At this time of year our business trades 2.5-3 million litres of wine a week, most of which comes in bulk containers into UK ports and travels by rail to a rail hub near our Manchester site or to the port in Liverpool. HGV drivers then transport the containers of liquid wine to our factory and are used to take the finished products to our customers including major supermarkets.

We, along with others across the wine and spirit industry, are experiencing hold ups along the way.  For example, the backlog of late deliveries has meant container spaces at the rail hubs are in high demand. We would normally expect to have 80 to 100 tank spaces, but at the moment we can be down at 10 to 20. This is limiting the amount of liquid getting to our plant and comes on top of the HGV driver shortages doing the deliveries. The driver surcharges will drive up costs and if products are turning up late it could lead to some festive drinks not making it onto supermarket shelves for Christmas.”

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