Wednesday 9 December 2020 / 10:30 PM Business / Lucy Powell

Labour tells government to get a grip as ports chaos threatens Christmas orders

Labour is today warning Ministers to urgently get a grip on the situation at ports, as Covid and uncertainty around the end of the transition period has led to stockpiling and disruption at Britain’s borders with around 70% of container freight potentially at risk of getting stuck. While countries around the world are facing problems with their supply chains, uncertainty around the end of the transition period has caused additional pressure in Britain. The ports at Felixstowe, Southampton and London Gateway have all been reported to be affected by congestion and between them are responsible for 70% of container freight coming into the UK. Last year, the port of Felixstowe alone handled 36% of container freight coming into the UK.

Businesses have been sounding the alarm for weeks about congestion at ports as well as stock getting stuck in their ports of origin. The congestion and confusion mean deliveries and food supplies risk failing to make it to shop shelves, causing stock shortages during the crucial Christmas trading period. High street shops have reported shortages of goods including toys and books, while food supplies stuck at docks risk being thrown out. Meanwhile Honda has been forced to pause production due to a shortage of car parts.

Labour is calling on the Business Secretary Alok Sharma to come to the House to set out how retailers will be supported, and for Michael Gove to set out a rapid action plan to reduce congestion at ports. The UK Major Ports Group has suggested running more and longer trains to and from ports and allowing hauliers more flexibility to collect containers out of normal hours.

The threat to supply chains is another blow for retailers and manufacturers across the country, already facing operational pressures, shrinking government grants and reduced cashflow. Labour has repeatedly called on Ministers to protect businesses and save jobs, by setting out a proper plan to support businesses through the crisis with a package that reflects the level of business need and severity of restrictions in different areas.

 

Lucy Powell MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Business and Consumers, said:

“Ministers have to wake up and listen to businesses, which have been sounding the alarm for weeks about the problems at ports and the risk of stock shortages.

“This disruption couldn’t come at a worse time of year, with businesses reliant on keeping their shelves stocked to cash in on crucial Christmas trade after months of really difficult conditions.

“Michael Gove must listen to industry and take urgent action to do what he can to ease the bottlenecks at British ports, or Gove will be the Grinch who Stole Christmas. And without a proper plan in place to reduce congestion, I worry this is the tip of the iceberg.”