Britain’s economy has been plunged into a supply chain crisis, with major retailers’ stock levels at their the lowest since 1983 as a result of worker shortages and transport disruption caused by Covid and Brexit.
The Confederation of British Industry said stock levels in relation to expected sales fell to their lowest level in August since it began tracking retail industry trends almost four decades ago.
It blamed global supply chain disruption triggered by the pandemic and worker shortages in several key industrial sectors, compounded by Brexit disruption as the UK emerges from lockdown.
Andrew Sentance, a former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, said shortages of workers and materials were the most acute in decades and painted a worrying picture for the British economy.
“Skills shortages could go on for a few years, the impact of Brexit on our ability to attract workers from the EU is not going to go away quickly and the process of training was quite significantly disrupted by the pandemic, when people were not working and furloughed,” he said.
UK employers are scrambling to hire workers. Amazon said it would offer joining bonuses of up to £1,000 (€1,170) at various UK sites to attract new permanent and seasonal workers, and other warehousing, transport and logistics firms, such as DHL and Whistl have similar plans.
In a sign the labour shortage has spread beyond logistics, Specsavers said it would pay as much as £10,000 for optometrists in some of its locations, British Gas £3,000 for gas engineers, and G4S £500 for security officers and managers.
Pets at Home is offering £1,000 signing-on bonuses for warehouse staff, Ocado £500 for new warehouse workers and delivery drivers, and AO.com hopes to attract “night shunters” to help load and unload trailers in its warehouses in the run-up to Christmas by offering a £1,000 joining bonus.
A UK shortage of lorry drivers and workers for food processing plants has led to disruption for food outlets. Business leaders and employment experts said Covid disruption affecting countries around the world was playing a role in shortages of workers and materials, but that the UK was particularly exposed after launching tougher migration rules after Brexit.
In Germany, the economic recovery is coming under threat from a persistent global supply squeeze and rising Covid infection numbers.
A key measure of business confidence in Europe’s largest economy by the Munich-based Ifo institute slipped in August.
“It’s quite clear that the growth outlook will have to be revised downwards,” Ifo president Clemens Fuest said. He said shortages in intermediate products weren’t just confined to semiconductors.
“It’s metal products, it’s plastic products, paper even. And then it’s certainly the pandemic,” he said.
• Guardian Service and Bloomberg