Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the world economy, the financial markets, the eurozone and business.
Pressure is mounting on the UK government today as a severe lack of lorry drivers nationwide disrupts fuel supplies to some petrol stations across the country.
Ministers are being urged to ease immigration rules as an emergency measure to attract HGV drivers from overseas, as the industry warns that around 100,000 are needed to fix the supply chain crisis.
Speaking on Sky News this morning, transport secretary Grant Shapps says he won’t rule anything out, but insists the real problem is the bottleneck in getting drivers tested, on top of a systemic shortage of drivers over many years.
Asked if the government will add lorry drivers to the list of shortage occupations, meaning overseas drivers could receive skilled visas to operate in the UK, Shapps says:
We’re absolutely not ruling anything out at all. We want to see this problem resolved, but we also want to see it resolved in the long term.
Q: A quick term fix would be short-term visas for drivers in Europe to come and work…
Shapps pledges to look at all possibilities:
I’ll look at everything, and we’ll move heaven and earth to do whatever we can to make sure that shortages are alleviated with HGV drivers.
But we need to look at the things that are going to make a difference, and the big problem is the testing of drivers.
The transport secretary also insists that the pandemic is the principle cause of the problem, as Covid-19 prevented people getting tested to replace people leaving the industry.
He also argues that the short term shortage should be resolved quickly, as there are twice as many tests on offer now.
“Many more tests are being made available now so we should see it smooth out fairly quickly.”
But can it be resolved fast enough to save Christmas?
Last night, Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association trade body accused ministers of “government by inertia”, allowing the situation to get “gradually worse” in recent months.
He told BBC’s Newsnight.
“We have got a shortage of 100,000 (drivers),
“When you think that everything we get in Britain comes on the back of a lorry – whether it’s fuel or food or clothes or whatever it is – at some point, if there are no drivers to drive those trucks, the trucks aren’t moving and we’re not getting our stuff.”
Mr McKenzie insisted at people shouldn’t race out to panic buy fuel or food:
“I don’t think we are talking about absolutely no fuel or food or anything like that, people shouldn’t panic buy food or fuel or anything else, that’s not what this is about.
“This is about stock outs, it’s about shortages, it’s about a normal supply chain being disrupted.”
Speaking on Sky News, Grant Shapps also argues that the UK has relied on importing cheap labour from overseas, and need to make trucking more attractive and better paid – so he very much welcomes salaries going up, attracting people back to the sector.
It also needs to become more diverse, he argues, with most drivers white, male, often over 55, so offering better conditions should help being more people in.
Yesterday, BP said that up to 100 of its forecourts were short of at least one grade of fuel, with several forced to close entirely due to problems with supplies. Esso said that a handful of its petrol stations operated alongside Tesco Express stores were affected, while some of the supermarket chain’s own-branded sites are also suffering outages.
The fuel supply problems are the latest blow to the economy, as the energy crisis, rising inflation, workers shortages and a cost of living squeeze raise fears of a winter, or even an autumn, of discontent.
Britain’s farmers are warning that supermarket shelves will go empty and consumers will panic buy to try and get through the winter unless the Government takes urgent action to alleviate labour shortages.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) yesterday called for an urgent Covid Recovery Visa to allow firms to recruit from outside the UK to alleviate “crippling” labour shortages across the supply chain.
The head of the NFU, Minette Batters, wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning that the food and farming sector is on a “knife edge” due to a shortage of workers across the entire supply chain…. More here.
Also coming up today:
Financial markets are on edge as uncertainty over China’s indebted property group Evergrande weighs on investors.
Evergrande was due to pay an interest payment on an offshore bond at midnight in New York (5am UK time) – but there’s no official word as to whether it’s paid, leaving investors in the dark.
Evergrande, which owes around $300bn, is caught up in an unfolding storm as Beijing tries to crack down on excessive debt in its property sector…and a default could knock China’s property and banking sectors, weakening growth:
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