Irfan Aslam, director of Global Components, shares an insight into the issues faced at ports and why the Government needs to step up.
To describe this year as challenging is an understatement. For businesses, multiple that by 10 and you’re getting to close to how the majority feel.
There are businesses that are struggling to survive, while on the other end of the scale, those businesses that have seen demand skyrocket are feeling the pressure of being able to meet such increased levels.
One such business is Global Components (UK) Ltd. Specialising in the supply of raw materials to bed manufacturers in the UK & Ireland for over 20 years, 2020 has been a year to remember. But for the wrong reasons.
“This year has been a very challenging year,” said Irfan Aslam, director of Global Components, who has been in the furnishing industry since the age of 16 years old. “My views are very simple. The Government has let down the business community massively.”
Irfan went on to say that he feels there has been a huge level of misunderstanding on how important the bed manufacturing industry is the UK’s wider economy. The way the Government is handling issues around Brexit is a situation that has now reached boiling point, with lack of import movement coupled alongside rising prices.
“We understand there is a worldwide increase in terms of raw materail price increases, but the issue at the ports and with what arrives into the country could have been solved months ago.
“When it became apparent the country had a no-deal scenario and people were going to start bringing a lot more goods into the country, this is down to the Government to put measures in place so this wouldn’t happen or impact so much as it currently is.
“This has been going on for months now and the situation is just getting worse on a daily basis. And yet nothing has been done about it. And now we find ourselves in that situation of all the major ports are bottle-legged, there’s nothing coming through.
“When the industry is facing huge price increases, we’re facing shortages too as the raw materials are not being able to enter the country, which means they can’t be supplied by companies like us. This means the goods at factories can’t be made to the demand we are experiencing. The orders are there, we just can’t physically get the materials in fast enough to deliver to our customers.”
This in turn creates another situation. A problem that can test working relationships and even determine if a business can continue to survive. As Irfan says, he feels like, at times, he is lying to customers due to constant, unpredictable, uninformed changes that occur on a regular basis.
“I’ve developed a lot of partnerships. I don’t see my customers as customers, I see them as partners because their success is our success and if we’re not able to facilitate them on the supply chain, it obviously impacts them.
“The situation we’ve got on a daily basis, for example, is that we’ve told a customer that next week a certain amount of goods are coming in but on the day they are supposed to arrive to us, we get notified by the shipping agent that they can’t deliver as the container has been held up at the port.
“This is happening on a daily basis with little or last minute communication that is proving to be a real problem. It’s putting a big strain on my staff, as they have got fantastic relationships with the customers and it’s almost like as if they feel they are lying to the customer, and letting them down when we can’t fulfil our supply. It becomes stressful for everybody in the process.
“The Government have put so much strain on business operations. Furlough is kind of like putting someone in an ICU, as this is just keeping them going until March when it runs out. What happens next? The businesses that are under more strain than others won’t be able to recover post-furlough and we will see more and more businesses closing for good.
“Come next year, there will still be problems as we won’t have the support of the furlough scheme, the issues we are all facing now will still persist through backlog that we are trying to ride out and inevitably it is going to impact the bottom line of any business.”
Irfan, along with many other businesses, is seeking more clarity from the Government, better communication and a distinctive plan to tackle the issues around supply.
If businesses were told in advance that shortages were coming, then “maybe you can prepare to some extent”, but as Irfan says, trying to deal with new challenges and problems on monthly, and even daily, basis, is not good enough.
“Everybody, whether you’re a one person business to a large outfit, is petrified of what will happen next year due to this lasting problems that we have all felt in the last few months.
“The buck stops with the Government. Lack of planning. Lack of understanding of industries like ours and the businesses involved and the impact it is having. Lack of communication. It really is a sad state of affairs.
“Ports need help in the form of the Government encouraging and supporting ports to employ more people, and actually giving us a strong idea of what will happen next year.”
Questions like, have they got the structures in place to allow goods to come in like before? Will there be more delays? If so, what is the time scale? Four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks? All need to be answered with clarity.
“We need this information so we can tell our customers what is happening. At the moment we are working in the dark here. It’s a guessing game and it’s a huge challenge.”