From coffee to microchips – how the supply chain crisis is disrupting UK plc

Chicken is running out in fast food restaurants. The wages of hauliers are on the rise. Crops are dying in the fields. Britain's supply chain crisis is at its worst since 1970, when power cuts, industrial disputes, and three-day weeks saw garbage pile up on the streets.
Four decades later, the current shortages in Britain are the result of Covid-19's disruption to a complex network of global supply chains. Any problem can throw the entire system. Brexit has further exacerbated the UK's rebirthed anarchy. There have been years of underinvestment from both government and business in people and infrastructure.

Experts believe that the UK's problem is due to worker shortages. This has caused problems to rise across the economy, from the McDonalds milkshake deficit to the builders rationing cement plasterboard. Global shortages of microchips are affecting car manufacturers and cutting production. However, an increase in international demand for various raw materials has caused an increase in the cost of different raw materials.

Britain's economy was close to collapse in July due to disruptions caused by shortages of workers. Official data released Friday showed that GDP grew 0.1% in July despite the removal of many pandemic restrictions placed on the 19th of July in England.

The Guardian tracked a simple cup of coffee taken from a cafeteria to see the effects of global heating, shortages in workers and materials, as well as the soaring costs.

Producing food

The fruit has been left to rot in farms, while slaughterhouses struggle to process chickens and pigs. Milk deliveries are also delayed. According to industry leaders, the problem is not due to insufficient food production but a shortage of workers who can pick, transport, and process goods. Coffee prices have shot up globally, as has the global food price. Pasta prices will rise as a result of drought in Canada, which is one of the largest producers of wheat. However, there are still supply problems in Italy.

Matt Knight, managing director of Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers said that there is no shortage of milk and no collection problems. Due to shortages of lorry drivers, it has been difficult to get deliveries to supermarkets.

The key to the shortage of workers is the difficulty in obtaining Brexit. This was after many casual workers fled the country during the pandemic. Additionally, the continued border restrictions and the coronavirus Delta variant have been a major problem.

The rate of unemployment for EU workers is higher than that of the domestic workforce. Since the beginning of 2019, the number of Romanians and Bulgarians working in food production and logistics roles has fallen by 24%. More than 100,000 employees from eight Eastern European countries have been laid off, including Poland, the Czech Republic and Czech Republic. This is a drop of 12%.


A Lidl in Durham has empty shelves Photograph: Tom Wilkinson/PA

Stock levels are at their lowest level since 1983 due to a shortage of HGV drivers. To avoid disappointment, retailers have advised parents to purchase Christmas gifts early. This is especially true for festive foods like turkeys and pigs in blankets that have a short shelf-life.

The problem has been exacerbated by a boom in online shopping during lockdown. To attract new employees, retailers like Ocado and Tesco have offered bonuses up to 1,000. Similar perks are available for warehouse jobs at Amazon and Pets at Home.

According to the Road Haulage Association, Britain lacks around 100,000 drivers to ensure goods flow smoothly. According to the Road Haulage Association, inadequate staff numbers before the pandemic were made worse by the departure of migrant drivers from the country during the crisis. Meanwhile, training and licensing new recruits was difficult.

Iceland warned that 40 deliveries could be cancelled daily to its stores. According to one industry expert, an importer of Christmas lights had to charter seven planes in order to fly goods from Asia. This was to avoid delays on lorries and at seaports.


A notice for hiring in a Windsor restaurant window, Berkshire, UK. Photograph: Maureen McLean/REX/Shutterstock

Nandos and KFC have removed chicken from their menus. McDonalds has discontinued milkshakes at McDonalds. Wetherspoons is running out of toast or lager because of supply chain snarl-ups.

Although there was a summertime boom of bookings at pubs and restaurants following the lifting of lockdown, many venues were left out due to staff shortages and pingdemic absences.

Employers are having difficulty finding chefs, kitchen porters and cleaners. Despite the furlough program slowly winding down, firms have reported the worst labour shortages since 1997, as well as record levels of vacancies.

Iain Hoskins is the owner of Ma Boyles Alehouse & Eatery, Liverpool. He said: Weve had a long summer of adapting to new ways of operating amid a pingdemic. Add the Brexit-related supply problems and staffing crisis, and we are really hanging on.


Production of cars is being affected by shortages of microchips. Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

Britain's manufacturing sector has been hit by the worst shortages in components and raw materials since 1977, which have slowed down its economic recovery and hampered its production.

Production has been affected by shortages of microchips. Carmakers have had to cut their output and meet delivery times for a variety of consumer products, from smartphones to microwaves. Drivers have to wait for months before they can get new cars or are forced to accept lower-spec models and less advanced gadgets. Secondhand cars are also more expensive because there are fewer new cars on the production line.

A lack of chip availability is due to elevated Covid infections in South-east Asia, and a fire at a Japanese plant.


Some builders report difficulty getting supplies. For example, the price of timber recently reached new record highs. Photograph: Maureen McLean/REX/Shutterstock

The pandemic boom in house prices and the DIY revolution in Britain have fueled a fervent demand for construction materials. However, suppliers have not been able to keep up with demand. Manufacturers are rationing materials from plasterboard to cement.

While the global lumber price soared to new heights in summer, it has since fallen back to pre-record levels. However, costs are still high. The prices of a variety of goods have been pushed up by builders merchants, including wheelbarrows, plastics, MDF, and steel.

Due to the influx of EU migrants leaving Britain, construction firms are having difficulty recruiting workers. Employers have had to raise starting salaries in order to hire more workers. As a result, construction projects have been slowing down in all areas of construction: commercial, civil and housebuilding.