Industry warning of further festive store shelf shortages over Brexit supply chain concerns

An industry warning has been issued that the UK faces further potential supermarket shelf shortages – including confectionery, snacks and bakery aisles, amid Brexit-related supply chain complications, reports Neill Barston.

Andrew Thurston, customs duty officer for MHA, an independent accountancy group based in Britain, said he believed that the UK government’s delay on border checks for goods coming from the EU until January would not be enough time for supply chain restriction issues to be sufficiently resolved.

The situation has led to a stalemate between the EU and UK, with a number of companies and businesses including restaurant chains, hospitality venues, and major companies – including with the confectionery sector, facing delivery delays. This has been worsened, with a national shortage of 100,000 HGV drivers amid Brexit and Covid-19 pandemic challenges.

As Confectionery Production recently reported, a number of confectionery companies have stated there have been significant logistics issues in the past year since the UK quit the EU trading bloc – with problems relating to both imports and exports, amid mounting administration and increases in physical transport costs.

The UK’s government, led by Boris Johnson, had hailed the 11th hour agreement with the EU decided in December 2020, as ‘a great deal’ for the nation – but it has already fallen foul of the EU, which has instituted legal action against Britain for what it believes is a clear breach of its trading intent with regards to exporting goods from the island of Great Britain to neighbouring Northern Ireland.

“Although the UK government’s decision to delay border checks on goods coming from the EU was expected, what was not was that these complex arrangements were only pushed back to the 1 January 2022. With only just over three months away until this deadline, the move puts already stretched customs agents and businesses under even more pressure than they already face, especially as full UK customs import declarations are required from the same date.

“The original timescales mentioned in the UK Border Operating Model were ambitious – it takes time for contracts to be agreed and new systems implemented. However, the UK had four years to plan for this and should have been ready.

“Delaying the requirement to declare sanitary and phytosanity (SPS) goods via the new import of products, animals, food and feed system (IPAFFS) to January may time well with a lower level of import activity post-Christmas, allowing a ‘bedding-in’ period to be established before the spring. However, the ongoing supply chain issues we are seeing now may be exacerbated come January if there are delays at the ports due to SPS checks. What’s more, there is a real concern over the potential lack of official vets who can police the import process and ease supply chain issues for perishable goods. This lack of staff has also been worsened by Brexit continuing to restrict the movement of newly trained EU-based vets into the UK.

“With physical checks at the UK border also delayed until 1 July 2022, the country will undoubtedly have more time to get ready for these complex and time-critical operations, but further delays are not unfathomable. Many UK companies still lack understanding of the changes required for importing under new Brexit rules and the SPS changes.

As such, they risk being late in developing procedures and having staff in place to meet these new requirements, especially as they’ve had to juggle other priories in 2021 mainly due to Covid-19. The result of UK business not being prepared could be empty supermarket shelves come the new year as well as exacerbated supply chain issues for many industries such as grocery and hospitality. The government has bought businesses some time but this should be used to fast track processes and ensure they are ready at the stroke of midnight in the New Year.”

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