BRC issues letter urging inquiry into port disruption

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) have written to Lilian Greenwood MP, Chair of the Commons Transport Select Committee, and Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, Chair of the Commons International Trade Committee, to request an urgent inquiry into the ongoing disruption at UK ports and across the shipping market.

The impact of Covid-19 on global shipping schedules and the shipping workforce along with a shortage of empty containers has created significant disruption at many of the UK’s key ports in the crucial run up to Christmas. This has meant retailers face “major challenges in building up stock for the Christmas period and for the end of the transition period at the end of December.”

The letter points to the significant impact that disruption is having on shipping-related costs, noting that “container spot rates have jumped considerably – in one instance, by 170% from this time last year. Others have noted week-on-week cost rises of 25%. In addition, congestion charges are being levied by carriers for imports into Felixstowe and Southampton.”

Food manufacturers have been badly affected by the delays. “Food manufacturers now face additional cost to source key inputs elsewhere, whilst also losing sales due to missed retail promotions in the run up to a key seasonal period – one company has lost over £1 million in sales due to the delays.”

The BRC previously wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport on the 20th November to call for action. At the behest of the BRC and other organisations, the Government temporarily relaxed the enforcement of EU drivers’ hours rules until 31st December to help delivery of essential items and reduce the backlog in some ports.

Retailers and their supply chains are working tirelessly to build stock ahead of the festive season and the end of the transition period, including redirecting consignments to other ports. However, some delays are inevitable. Once the Brexit transition period ends, UK ports will be placed under even greater pressure.

The letter requests the Transport Select Committee holds a joint-inquiry with the Commons International Trade Committee on Port Disruption and Functioning of the Shipping Market. Such an inquiry would give affected businesses the opportunity to set out how the disruption has impacted their operations and could help support planning and troubleshooting of this crucial issue.

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium said:  “The lead up to Christmas is the most important time of year for retailers; ordinarily accounting for up a fifth of the entire year’s sales and generating a large part of annual revenues. After a tremendously challenging 2020, many firms’ cashflows are under severe pressure, and so businesses are in no position to absorb these additional shipping costs.

“As a result, consumers will pay the final price. Christmas orders could be delayed, and retailers might be left with no option but to increase product prices. These issues must be addressed urgently; an inquiry would provide the scrutiny needed to help get our ports flowing freely again.”