UPDATE 1-Bring in the army: Food group’s call to relieve UK lorry driver crisis | Financial News

(Adds government spokesperson comment)

LONDON, July 2 (Reuters) – Premier Foods, one of
Britain’s biggest food companies, has called on the government
to consider using the army to distribute goods to help relieve a
severe shortage of truck drivers.

Last week industry leaders warned Britain could face gaps on
supermarket shelves this summer and an “unimaginable” collapse
of supply chains after the pandemic and Brexit led to a shortage
of more than 100,000 heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers.

At a meeting on Monday between officials from the Department
for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and food industry
representatives, Premier Foods’ delegate asked the government to
consider using the army to distribute supplies, given that some
military personnel hold HGV licenses.

Details of the meeting were first reported by ITV News.

“This was one of many ideas put forward in an industry
brainstorming session,” a spokesman for Premier Foods, which
owns brands including Mr Kipling, Bisto, Ambrosia and Paxo, said
on Friday.

“At Premier Foods, we have plans in place to manage the
situation within our supply chain.”

A spokesman for Britain’s Ministry of Defence said it had
not received a formal request to provide support. A government
spokesperson later said: “There are no plans to use military
personnel in this scenario.”

At the DEFRA meeting Chris Hall, head of logistics at Asda,
Britain’s third largest supermarket group after Tesco
and Sainsbury’s, said the grocer was “just about
keeping our head above water”.

He warned however that any spike in demand this summer would
“give us significant challenges and disruption”.

Industry lobby group the British Retail Consortium (BRC)
said the fall in HGV driver numbers has resulted in minor
disruption to some supply chains.

“Supermarkets are working closely with their suppliers to
ensure that consumers still have access to the same great
selection of goods,” said Andrew Opie, the BRC’s director of
food & sustainability.

“The government must rapidly increase the number of HGV
driving tests taking place while also looking for a longer-term
solution to this issue.”

The government has said most of the solutions are likely to
be commercial and from within industry.
(Reporting by James Davey
Editing by Jan Harvey)