Christmas orders 'may not arrive on time' as COVID and Brexit stockpiling cripple major UK port

Tuesday 17th November 2020 13:45 GMT

Pre-Brexit stockpiling, coronavirus, and a backlog of around 11,000 containers of PPE at Felixstowe port in Suffolk have been blamed for creating long delays and preventing retailers from receiving stock in the run-up to Christmas.

Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy at the Road Haulage Association, told Sky News the PPE backlog, the impact of shops closing, and increased demand for online orders, had upped pressure on what is already the busiest time of year for the shipping and haulage industries.

He said the knock-on effect means people across the UK and Ireland won't get their Christmas orders in time, particularly if shops remain closed past the end of England's lockdown on 2 December.

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"This is the busiest time of year for the haulage industry and the world of home delivery, even before COVID and lockdown," he told Sky News.

"But it will be particularly crazy this year because of the pandemic and what's happening at Felixstowe.

"If your items are coming on a shipping container from abroad and it is delayed [because there is no space in the port], it is possible you are not going to have it for Christmas."

He warned consumers to order now if they want to ensure gifts arrive in time, adding: "[The situation] is getting worse. Even if lockdown ends on 2 December and Felixstowe is cleared, we will still have a challenging Christmas."

Felixstowe port welcomes 3,000 ships each year. Around 17 shipping lines operate from there, travelling to over 700 ports around the world.

Last week, a Taiwanese ship was forced to turn back and dock in Rotterdam in the Netherlands after being told a berthing slot wouldn't be available for 10 days.

Sky News understands instances like this are rare. But while the PPE backlog is causing delays, pressure on global supply lines due to COVID and a shortage of haulage lorries compared to demand are also contributing to delays.

It will have an impact on big retailers like supermarkets, all the way down to small businesses, Mr McKenzie said.

He added there was a "common misconception" the port only served the surrounding region, but that items from there head across the UK and to Ireland, meaning it has a far-reaching impact.

He also described the situation at the port as a "mess".

"There are 11,000 containers of PPE shipped in from China just sitting up at the quayside," he said. "Lots of things are stuck on ships that can't unload and lorries can't pick up. The whole system deteriorates."

Mr McKenzie said the situation may worsen when the Brexit transition period passes at the end of the year, warning: "And January… it's not a pretty picture. We are all very interconnected."

An operational note posted on the behalf of the port owners Hutchinson Ports on the Felixstowe website said delays would continue to "at least into December and possibly through into the New Year".

The note also said the company was working with the government to remove PPE containers "as quickly as possible" and that it should be cleared in four weeks.

A statement from the port said: "We continue to work closely with our customers and other stakeholders to tackle the impact of current global supply chain pressures on the flow of goods through UK ports.

"Global supply chains remain under pressure but we have a plan to address the specific issues at Felixstowe.

"We are increasing the level of resource available, developing additional storage capacity and working with customers and partners to remove long stay containers as quickly as possible to reduce congestion.

"We are grateful to our employees at the Port of Felixstowe, who continue to work extremely hard in difficult circumstances, as they have throughout the COVID pandemic, to serve our customers and deliver for the UK."

In what could be a precursor to some of the challenges facing Christmas shoppers, the makers of the new PlayStation and Xbox consoles have warned their latest products will be hard to come by due to the pandemic.

Microsoft CFO Tim Stuart said the company expects shortages of the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, which were released on 10 November, to continue until April 2021.

The PS5 hits the UK on Thursday, but Sony's Jim Ryan has warned many fans are likely to be disappointed.

He told the BBC the company has been "astonished" by the level of pre-orders, saying: "We're making more PS5s in this difficult environment then we made PS4s in that launch.

"If people are unable to find one at launch, we're very sorry and apologetic about that."

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