A surge of freight volumes has caused gridlock in UK ports, and the government has been warned by port operators that further disruption could be on the way once new Brexit checks come into force.
Felixstowe, the UK’s biggest deep-sea port that handles 40% of the country’s container trade, has been handling around 30% more goods than usual as businesses have rushed to replenish stock after the end of the recent England-wide lockdown and ahead of the final days of the Brexit transition period. The disruption has also been felt in other major ports including Southampton and London Gateway, impacting several industries.
Shortages of essential products like washing machines and fridges have been reported by several high street retail chains. Builders are also running short on tools and supplies, with Builders Merchants Federation CEO John Newcomb describing the ports as a “major issue” for members.
“There appears to be an increasing issue getting products through ports,” Newcomb said. “Rather than taking a maximum of one week to unload, it is taking up to four.”
Elsewhere, Honda was forced to close its 370-acre factory in Swindon – its largest plant in Europe – which operates a “just in time” manufacturing supply chain. As the punctual arrival of goods is essential to the continuity of its production line, congestion at ports left the factory unable to function.
From 1 January, UK exporters and lorries will be subject to new checks on agricultural and animal products at EU ports, which logistics industry heads fear will disrupt mainland imports. Equally concerning are the health and safety checks that the UK plans to impose on EU imports, including food, potentially causing shortages.
In a letter to cabinet office minister Michael Gove in November, British Ports Association CEO Richard Ballantyne warned of a “severe impact” on trade and essential supplies.
“Some ports are being told by customers that these volumes of interventions could ‘kill off’ particular trades,” Ballantyne wrote, raising fresh-cut flowers and salad and meat supplies for supermarkets as some of the most at-risk areas.