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Explainer: What is happening to the UK’s supply chain?

The UK is currently experiencing several crises relating to its supply chain. Many of these problems have been exacerbated by Brexit due to reduced access to labour from the EU.

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    Overview of the UK’s current supply chain issues

    It is difficult to point to one single cause of the UK’s current supply chain problems, but evidence of the issues is very visible.

    Currently, some of the most pressing problems include:

    The primary reason that the current crisis is unprecedented is due to the combination of factors resulting from Brexit and COVID.

    While other European countries have been able to move towards a post-pandemic recovery, the UK has encountered several unique challenges hampering efforts to recover.

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    Issues caused by Brexit

    Britain leaving the EU has undoubtedly been a significant contributor to the issues the country is now facing.

    In the past, European workers were free to travel to the UK and work without restriction. Now, they must apply for an appropriate employment visa.

    The most common visa, the Skilled Worker Visa, has a lengthy list of requirements, including minimum salary level, English language level, pre-approved job offers from an eligible employer with a UK Sponsor Licence, as well as other criteria.

    Many roles in affected industries (including agriculture, food manufacturing, and road haulage/ transport) do not qualify for either the Skilled Worker Visa or Temporary Worker Visa.

    With a lack of available UK workers causing supply chain issues, the government until as recently as last week insisted that existing workers must be found and trained rather than relying on European workers.

    The government has since done a U-turn on this and has opened up temporary work visas for 5,000 fuel tanker and HGV drivers, as well as for 5,500 workers in the poultry industry.

    Supply chain problems caused by COVID-19

    In addition to Brexit, some of the problems are directly attributable to the global coronavirus pandemic.

    The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics have shown that approximately 5% of EU nationals employed in the UK at the end of 2019 have left the country.

    It is estimated that approximately 14,000 EU HGV drivers left the UK, resulting in a decrease of 39%.

    As well as migration of workers away from the UK, training and testing for UK drivers has been disrupted, leading to backlogs in drivers being able to gain their qualifications.

    In response, the government implemented more short-term measures such as extending the driving time limit and made the training process quicker.

    Even prior to the pandemic, there was a shortage of approximately 60,000 HGV drivers (according to some estimates).

    Low wages and working have also contributed to the problem, with the Financial Times reporting the average pay for drivers in 2010 was 51% higher than that of supermarket cashiers, but that this number had fallen to just 27% higher by 2020.

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      What’s next for the UK?

      The current situation looks bleak, and industry experts are warning that the impact of the busy Christmas shopping period will make the situation worse.

      It is possible that the COVID case numbers will continue to rise in the winter months, leading to further strain on the health system, which may in turn result in disruption to businesses on a level similar to lockdowns.

      Although many businesses have been preparing for imports to the UK to be checked, the government has announced further delays to this, stating that they were not yet ready because of the pandemic.

      Businesses exporting to the EU have had to undergo checks on goods since January 2021. As well as this, checks on goods between the UK and Northern Ireland have not yet been introduced, and have been ‘indefinitely postponed.’

      Overall, there have been some major changes to the supply chain, and as a result, life in the UK as a result of Brexit, and these problems have been exacerbated by COVID.

      How can IAS help?

      The Immigration Advice Service is well-positioned to help our diverse clients during this uncertain period.

      If you are an EU, EEA, or non-EU or EEA worker intending to come to the UK for employment purposes, we can assist you with the following:

      • Assess your eligibility for your chosen visa route
      • Assist with the list of supporting documents needed
      • Advise on the best way to achieve your goals based on our knowledge of immigration law
      • Complete the application form on your behalf
      • Liaise with the Home Office while your application is pending

      We can assist with Skilled Worker Visas, Temporary Worker Visas, Frontier Worker Permits, and other forms of employment visa.

      If you are an employer who wishes to hire workers from outside the UK, our immigration advisers can assist with applying for your Sponsor Licence and certificate of sponsorship.

      We can advise on ensuring that you maintain the licence and remain compliant with the complex Home Office rules.

      Phone 0333 305 9375 to speak to our friendly client care team today.

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