P&O feud risks hitting consumers in the pocket

The suspension of these services for a week to 10 days was the result of a decision to replace its seafarers with cheaper agency workers.

As stunned passengers were left stranded, some of Britain’s main carrier business links were also cut in an instant, sparking a rush to alternative routes.

It led to familiar scenes of lorries meandering down the Port of Dover road on Thursday and Friday in the latest hit to Britain’s supply chains. Supply chains battered by Covid were already struggling to get back to normal and provide the stable service on which the modern economy relies.

“It’s going to get tough. Delays will come,” says Gunter. “I think we’re going to start seeing some delays over the next few days. It will start to accumulate.

P&O Ferries accounts for around 15% of all goods entering and leaving the UK, and claims to take 2.2 million freight units a year.

Before Covid, the company said it was responsible for transporting more than half of the freight through the Strait of Dover. P&O deals with “roll-on, roll-off” freight, transporting goods on trucks rather than using containers to transport goods.

Transport Minister Robert Courts insisted the government had ‘long foreseen contingencies for this sort of situation, particularly around the English Channel’.

He adds that queues on the way to Dover are more likely, but that modeling suggests there is enough freight capacity to “handle the temporary loss of these P&O ferries”.

Industry insiders, however, are less hopeful that high levels of disruption will be avoided, with queues already affecting port operations, with the potential to hit Europe as well.

Deliveries could be delayed for several days and trucks could have to take longer and more expensive routes to transport their goods.

“It is possible that there will be increased congestion in continental ports and UK ports,” said Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association.

“It may be business as usual for some people, others may find that you are a day or more late in terms of delivering your goods.”

Rising costs for logistics companies are likely to ripple through the wider supply chain – and potentially, ultimately, consumer pockets.

According to Gunter of Global Freight Services, delays will soon start piling up and costs will increase “unless, of course, by pure magic, the government steps in and takes some kind of action.”

This all only adds to the problems caused by the shortage of lorry drivers – a trend which started post-Brexit and worsened amid Covid.

Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association says the P&O situation is just the latest in a series of serious blows to the industry, driving up costs and clogging trade routes.

“It’s another unwanted and unnecessary barrier to trade. UK Plc depends on these lorries moving, so anything that stops or delays is very bad news for all of us,” he says.

Food supplies will be of particular concern as trucks loaded with perishables are the most vulnerable to delays.

“Costs are rising, the bureaucratic effects of post-Brexit offshoring are a factor, we’re short on drivers anyway, fuel prices are huge for us right now. It’s really hit after hit,” says McKenzie.

As far as solutions are concerned, drivers have other options than P&O to get to and from Europe.

Ballantyne, of the British Ports Association, says: “We have enough resilience, certainly in the short term, to handle the situation… All routes have viable freight alternatives.

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