Co-op boss says government help essential in solving driver shortages

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Steve Murrells (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images/File Photo)

Solving Britain’s dire shortage of truck drivers needs government intervention, the boss of supermarket group Co-op said on Thursday.

“This won’t be solved in isolation, this is a global issue where the supply chain has completely broken down,” Chief Executive Steve Murrells told Reuters on Thursday.

“You can’t solve (a shortage of) 90,000 HGV drivers in isolation, it needs a structural change,” he said.

Murrells welcomed the announcement on Wednesday that Housing Secretary Michael Gove will lead the UK government’s response to the crisis and joined industry calls for HGV drivers to be added to the shortage occupation list so foreign workers can plug the gap.

Gove, previously the cabinet office minister, was moved to be housing, communities and local government secretary in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle.

Murrells earlier said that the current food shortage is “at a worse level than at any time” he has seen, adding that the group has been forced to reduce its range on offer in stores.

The pandemic and Brexit have left Britain short of some 90,000 truck drivers, many of whom returned to eastern Europe, causing supply chain problems, particularly in the food and drink sector.

Fears are growing that supply problems will hit Christmas. Fast food outlets KFC and McDonald’s have already reported shortages of some menu items, while the JD Wetherspoon chain of pubs, owned by Brexit-supporting Tim Martin, had run out of some beer brands.

London  mayor Sadiq Khan on Tuesday called for a time-limited “Covid recovery visa” to help recruit and train EU workers to alleviate labour shortages after Brexit and the pandemic.