Brexit and pandemic-delayed lorry driver tests contributing to supply chain issues, says Arla boss

Brexit and lorry driver tests being delayed by the pandemic have contributed to nationwide issues in the food supply chain, an industry boss has said, amid a shortage of drivers.

Stock image of supermarket shelves (PA/Kirsty O'Connor)

Ash Amirahmadi, managing director of Arla UK - headquartered in Leeds - has said that the dairy business has “really struggled to meet the demand” over the last three to four weeks, and said the issues lie in transporting goods from factory to supermarket, rather than from farm to the production site.

He told The Yorkshire Post the business was “finding it difficult” to complete the journey to supermarket shelves, and explained: “For Arla it’s predominantly an issue with drivers and particularly drivers who are transporting finished goods from production sites to the shops so we don’t seem to have a problem picking up the milk from farm, but we’ve definitely got an issue transporting.”

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Mr Amirahmadi blamed the disruption on “a number of factors” and said that there’s “consistently been a shortage of drivers” over his 30-year career in the industry but that the issue has been “particularly acute” in recent months.”

“I think Brexit has had an impact,” he said.

“Covid has had an impact and the most obvious Covid impact is that normally about 35,000 - 40,000 tests are done a year for HGV drivers and had to be suspended quite rightly for Covid, and there’s a backlog of tests.”

Mr Amirahmadi’s comments on the same day Arla released its half year results, which showed a three per cent growth in the first half of this year, however he anticipates the second half to be “much more challenging”.

“There are three changes that everybody who is in the food industry is having to navigate”, he explained.

“The first one is how consumers and shoppers are changing the way that they’re buying products, the second one is inflation, the third one [is the] operational disruption.”

A supermarket boss warned earlier this week that there could be shortages of some products at Christmas.

John Allan, who has overseen the country’s largest grocer Tesco since 2015, said the Government should change rules for lorry drivers to allow for more emergency workers from overseas to help solve the problem.

He told the BBC on Wednesday: “At the moment we’re running very hard just to keep on top of the existing demand and there isn’t the capacity to build stocks that we’d like to see. So, in that sense, I think there may be some shortages at Christmas.

“But, again, I wouldn’t want to over-dramatise the extent to which that would be the case, I think it’s very easy to make a drama out of a modest crisis.”