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Britain’s supply chain of food and medicine could grind to a halt

Britain’s vital supply chain could grind to a halt as nearly half of the country’s lorries have been taken off the road since the coronavirus crisis began, an industry body has warned. 

The lorries are transporting essential goods such as food and medicine up and down Britain as the country continues to battle the pandemic.

Britain’s spiralling death toll hit 10,000 today with 737 new fatalities.

The Road Haulage Association warned it is reaching crisis point with many transport firms are on the brink of collapse.

Britain's vital supply chain could grind to a halt as nearly half of the country's lorries have been taken off the road since the coronavirus crisis began, a trade body has warned. Pictured: Lorries queuing at the Port of Dover in Kent to help deliver goods across the UK last week

Britain's vital supply chain could grind to a halt as nearly half of the country's lorries have been taken off the road since the coronavirus crisis began, a trade body has warned. Pictured: Lorries queuing at the Port of Dover in Kent to help deliver goods across the UK last week

Britain’s vital supply chain could grind to a halt as nearly half of the country’s lorries have been taken off the road since the coronavirus crisis began, a trade body has warned. Pictured: Lorries queuing at the Port of Dover in Kent to help deliver goods across the UK last week

If they go under, the UK’s fleet of lorries which deliver essentials will stand idle.

Multiple shops and factories rely on hundreds of small independent hauliers to ferry goods to them from distribution centres and ports.

But 46 per cent of the trucks have been taken off the road since the crisis began, an RHA survey found.

The main income for many independent hauliers is transporting equipment for large concerts and events, all of which have been cancelled due to coronavirus.

Others have been hit by a lack of international imports after airports all but closed down due to the crisis. 

Richard Burnett, RHA chief executive, warned many firms are in danger of going out of business permanently.

He said they need immediate cash injections to stay afloat so they can continue to keep the UK economy moving.

Mr Burnett said: ‘The measures the Government have come up with simply don’t work. 

‘An average haulier will make maybe 2 per cent margin, they’ll have two to three weeks cashflow within their business.

‘We’ve got hauliers at the moment who can’t even furlough their staff, because they have insufficient cash to pay those employees.

‘We need cash, we need grants, we need help to balance and normalise this cashflow problem, and the loan system simply doesn’t work at this point in time.

‘The Government will need to provide more radical financial support to ensure they survive.

‘The events and music world has been decimated with the cancellation of concert tours.

‘One major haulier has parked-up their 170-vehicle fleet and told their driving force nothing will be moving for at least two to three months with all revenue disappearing overnight.

‘Another is in the same situation having had concert tours worth millions cancelled.

Multiple shops and factories rely on hundreds of small independent hauliers to ferry goods to them from distribution centres and ports. Pictured: Lorries queuing at the Port of Dover in Kent to help deliver goods across the UK last week

Multiple shops and factories rely on hundreds of small independent hauliers to ferry goods to them from distribution centres and ports. Pictured: Lorries queuing at the Port of Dover in Kent to help deliver goods across the UK last week

Multiple shops and factories rely on hundreds of small independent hauliers to ferry goods to them from distribution centres and ports. Pictured: Lorries queuing at the Port of Dover in Kent to help deliver goods across the UK last week

‘Panic buying is creating artificial peaks with manufacturers working hard to supply retailers and volumes exceeding the normal Christmas peak.

‘What we’re seeing now, and have seen so far, is the tip of the iceberg.

‘While millions are now working from home we are still expecting truckers to be out there delivering goods like food and medicine. They are taken for granted and have been for years.’

Almost 50 per cent of the food consumed in Britain is imported with 29 per cent of that from Europe.

The RHA said the coronavirus epidemic has the potential to cause ‘catastrophic effects’ on haulage firms if supplies cannot cross borders.

Mr Burnett warned recently ‘Over the past six weeks we have seen container volume from China drop by between 70 and 80 per cent and we are now seeing issues with the flow of raw material, retail product and food from across Europe. 

‘Air freight into Heathrow has more or less stopped.

‘It’s hard to know how much this volume will decrease from here as more borders are closed or restricted. 

‘So far, road freight movements in Europe have been exempted from most restrictions and in many countries rules limiting or banning the movement of lorries at weekends have been suspended to create greater supply-chain resilience. 

‘Any future lockdown of towns and cities and closure of food and retail outlets will suppress volumes further.

‘The main costs for most businesses are vehicles – which are often leased – plus fuel and wages.

‘Businesses are at massive risk from banks and fuel suppliers withdrawing credit and hauliers will collapse quickly if credit is not sustained and extended.

Almost 50 per cent of the food consumed in Britain is imported with 29 per cent of that from Europe (stock image)

Almost 50 per cent of the food consumed in Britain is imported with 29 per cent of that from Europe (stock image)

Almost 50 per cent of the food consumed in Britain is imported with 29 per cent of that from Europe (stock image)

‘This problem is compounded by forthcoming regulatory change requiring companies to invest in new, low emission vehicles.

‘The measures we are calling for must start now. The industry usually starts planning for the mad panic of Christmas in August but this is beyond anything we have seen before.’

Jack Fleming, CEO of Chill-Chain, a cold chain logistics firm, said ‘Unless a company is one of the few that solely supplies supermarkets, you’re seeing fleets really struggling.

‘We’re seeing small and medium-sized haulage fleets struggling for work and that means drivers are being sent home.’

Natalie Chapman, head of urban policy at the Freight Transport Association, called on the Government to help.

‘We need to be protecting the businesses seeing a downturn in trade, while also ensuring that where we’re seeing big increases in demand, that as an industry we can fulfil that.’

The Department for Transport said ‘As the Chancellor announced, this Government will provide £330 billion of guarantees, including cash grants of up to £25,000 for several hundred thousand small businesses.

‘We will stand behind businesses small and large and will do everything we can to support businesses to get through this. 

‘Ministers are engaging in weekly discussions with the Road Haulage Association to discuss the challenges facing the sector.’ 

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