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Retailers call on MPs to launch inquiry into ports chaos

Retailers and food manufacturers have called on MPs to launch an inquiry into congestion at container ports.

Disruption first started in October and has been blamed on a number of factors such as a rise in imports due to the Covid-19 pandemic, large stocks of PPE being brought into the country and Brexit stock-piling.

If Boris Johnson is unable to secure a free trade agreement with the EU then border congestion is expected to be more severe after the Brexit transition period ends according to experts, leading to possible shortages of fresh food.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) warn they face “major challenges” in building up stock for Christmas and the end of the transition period on December 31.

One food manufacturer has suffered lost sales worth more than £1 million due to a shortage during the crucial festive period, the letter stated.

The BRC and FDF want the committees to hold an inquiry into the chaos at ports and the functioning of the shipping market.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “The lead up to Christmas is the most important time of year for retailers, ordinarily accounting for up to a fifth of the entire year’s sales and generating a large part of annual revenues.

“After a tremendously challenging 2020, many firms’ cashflows are under severe pressure, and so businesses are in no position to absorb these additional shipping costs.

“These issues must be addressed urgently. An inquiry would provide the scrutiny needed to help get our ports flowing freely again.”

FDF chief operating officer Tim Rycroft added: “Food and drink manufacturers are extremely concerned about the delays we are witnessing at the ports.

“Our members are incurring costs totalling tens of thousands of pounds, and in some cases hundreds of thousands.

“It is directly impacting on the ability of businesses to build up stockpiles of products and ingredients ahead of the end of the transition period.”

Dixons Carphone revealed on Wednesday it has been affected by the congestion, with delays of up to two days for some of its goods.

But the firm said it “can handle” the delays and has been preparing for Brexit disruption for a long time.