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Petrol panic-buying begins as UK plunges towards Winter of Discontent 2.0

Written by The Frontier Post

LONDON (Dailymail): Panic buying at the pumps has already begun today amid fears fuel rationing is on the way due to the UK’s crippling HGV driver shortage – as Transport Secretary Grant Shapps tried to calm nerves by urging Britons ‘carry on as normal’.

Queues of cars were seen spilling out on to the road from forecourts in Tonbridge, Kent, in Ely, Cambridgeshire, Bright and Leeds this morning – just a day after fuel bosses warned of petrol and diesel rationing and petrol station closures.

One petrol station in Essex, was already said to have run out of diesel by this morning, while outside another forecourt on the A12, also in Essex, queues were said to be ‘three rows deep to every pump’.

The scenes of queues outside petrol stations  – which for some will stir up memories of the 1973 Opec Oil Crisis and the 2000 fuel shortage – come amid fears of a 1978-style ‘winter of discontent’ for the UK, with skyrocketing energy prices, food shortages and fuel rationing. 

Yesterday BP announced plans to ration fuel and a ‘handful’ of its petrol stations, along with ‘small number’ of Tesco refilling stations, while supermarkets warned of food shortages and more energy firms went bust amid rising gas prices – sparking fears of a new ‘winter of discontent’.

And in a particularly unhelpful addition to the problem, eco-mob Insulate Britain returned to the roads today to block off a route to Port of Dover – Europe’s busiest port and the UK’s main gateway for trade from the EU.

It comes as Petrol Retailers Association last night warned drivers to ‘keep a quarter of a tank’ of fuel in their vehicles in preparation for potential closures of local petrol stations.  

Meanwhile Ministers faced fresh pressure to ease immigration rules as an emergency measure to attract HGV drivers from overseas amid warnings that 100,000 more were needed across the industry.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today hinted at the possibility, saying he would move ‘heaven and earth’ to tackle the ‘systemic issue’ of HGV driver shortages.

He also claimed transport firms were offering huge salaries in a bid to entice drivers who have left the industry to come back – with one ‘top milk firm’ apparently offering as much as ‘£78,000-a-year’.  

Meanwhile, one vegetable firm in Lincolnshire is currently advertising a broccoli picker role for £30-per-hour – equivalent to around £62,000-a-year.

Government source warned last night that Downing Street is growing increasingly ‘worried’ over a brewing ‘winter of discontent’ – with Christmas ruined by soaring energy bills, shortages and Universal Credit cuts.

Ministers are said to have drawn up plans to put soldiers on standby in case they are required to drive petrol tankers in case of severe crisis.

When questioned about this on BBC Breakfast, Mr Shapps said: ‘If it can actually help, we will bring them in.’

But he urged people not to panic buy, telling Sky News: ‘The advice would be to carry on as normal, and that’s what BP are saying as well.’

Among the issues threatening a winter of discontent are:

  • A shortage of natural gas causing a spike in gas bills for millions of Britons, along with the possibility of dozens of small energy firms going bust;
  • However ministers say ‘there is question of the lights going out, of people being unable to heat their homes. There will be no three-day working week, or a throwback to the 1970s’;
  • A shortage of natural gas leading to the closure of fertiliser plants, which produce the CO2 used in fizzy drinks and the meat industry;
  • The Government has since agreed a deal with fertiliser firms to restart a factory in a bid to maintain CO2 production;
  • A lorry driver shortage which is crippling the UK’s transport industry, leaving to empty shelves and slow delivery times;
  • Bosses say this could impact both of Christmas dinners and have an impact on the number of toys on the shelves;
  • Now bosses of major fuel firms have warned they will have to start shutting petrol stations because there are not enough lorry drivers to effectively distribute to all of its petrol stations;
  • It comes after the Bank of England warned on Thursday that surging household energy bills would send the cost of living spiralling by more than 4 per cent this winter – the highest rate of growth for a decade

It comes as the UK’s Agricutlure Secretary George Eustice has indicated that the government is preparing to extend the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) this year to help tackle the UK’s HGV crisis.

Mr Eustice also said ministers were looking at ‘changing the focus’ of the scheme to push for more HGV drivers.

The scheme is mainly used by seasonal workers who are picking fruit and vegetables in the UK.

More than 500,000 over-50s have withdrawn from UK labour market since Covid, says employment expert

More than 500,000 over-50s have withdrawn from the UK labour market since the start of the Covid pandemic, according to an employment expert.

The sudden withdrawal of hundreds of thousands of staff, plus a drop in the number of migrant workers and an increase in the number of students has led to record numbers of job vaccancies, according to Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘It’s right (that there are fewer workers around). The labour market is much smaller than it was before the pandemic began.

‘We estimate that there is about a million fewer people in the labour market now than there were before the crisis began and probably about a quarter of that is explained by lower migration and that’s mainly lower immigration since the pandemic rather than higher emigration.

‘About 500,000 of that is explained by more people over 50 who have withdrawn from the labour market. That’s compared with what we would have expected to happen, because over 50s employment and labour market participation has been growing for decades, but that growth has now reversed.

‘So it’s about half a million is explained by over 50s, while 300,000 is explained by young people in full time education – so more young people more in education.’

‘And there is a little bit which is furlough, which is ending next week, but it looks like that may only be between 200,000-300,000 workers, so it could be around one million workers.’

Asked what the sudden spike in over-50s dropping from the labour market, he said: ‘It’s a combination of factors. A lot will be the pandemic. It will be people who will have been furloughed, who have taken time away from the labour market and simply aren’t returning.

‘Some of it will be people who feel they can’t go back to work, they may have been shielding for example and may come back in the future.’

Speaking at the Balmoral Show in Northern Ireland, he said there was ‘an acute labour shortage at the moment right across the UK economy’.

He also said the government would be trying to encourage EU workers with settled status to return to the UK.

One thing that might entice workers to take up vegetable picking is a boost in salaries.

H Clements and Son Ltd, based in Boston, Lincs posted one job advert calling for broccoli pickers – who they say can earn up to £30-per-hour.

This works out at £240-per-day or £1,200-per-week. The monthly pay for doing it full-time is £4,800 and an annual salary of £62,400-a-year – based on an average working week.

The job advert reads: ‘We are looking for Field Operatives to harvest our broccoli. Excellent piecework with potential to earn up to £30-per-hour. All year round work available.’

Along with the potential of empty food shelves, toys, vinyl and books could also experience shortages – with experts even warning of Christmas tree issues.

Despite the Government agreeing a deal to restart production at the CO2 plants, industry bodies have warned that consumers may still see a hike in food prices, particularly if the cost of carbon dioxide rises.

The Government’s deal with CF Industries is only in place for three weeks – leading to fears that the issues could start up again in the run-up to the festive period.

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman insisted there is no shortage of fuel and urged people to continue to fill up their vehicles ‘as normal’.

The spokesman stressed the UK has ‘very resilient and robust’ supply chains, but the admission of challenges ahead is likely to spark fears of potential disruption.

Asked if Boris Johnson is concerned at petrol station closures, the PM’s spokesman said: ‘I think the first thing to say is that there is no shortage of fuel in the UK and people should continue to buy fuel as normal.

‘We obviously recognise the challenges faced by the industry and are taking steps to support them.

‘You will be aware DfT recently announced that they are streamlining the process for HGV drivers and have increased the number of tests that they have made available.

‘But obviously we will work closely with industry, we recognise there are issues that many are facing. This is a problem that many countries around the world are tackling.’

Asked if the PM accepts the UK is facing a tough winter, the spokesman said: ‘We acknowledge there are issues facing many industries across the UK and not just in terms of HGV drivers but we have obviously seen the increase in wholesale gas.

‘That is why you have seen Kwasi Kwarteng speaking and working incredibly closely with industry over the course of this week and we will continue to do so.’

The spokesman said the fuel and food sectors have a ‘very resilient and robust supply chain’ and people should continue to shop as normal. 

A BP spokesman said today: ‘We are experiencing some fuel supply issues at some of our retail sites in the UK and unfortunately have therefore seen a handful of sites temporarily close due to a lack of both unleaded and diesel grades.

‘These have been caused by some delays in the supply chain which has been impacted by the industry-wide driver shortages across the UK and there are many actions being taken to address the issue.

‘We continue to work with our haulier supplier to minimise any future disruption and to ensure efficient and effective deliveries to serve our customers. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.’

The planned restrictions will mean running 80% of services levels to 90% of BP’s forecourt network and that most locations, as a result, will not be restocked for one-and-a-half days a week.

However petrol stations on motorways will be prioritised and restocked as normal.

Seasonal worker scheme ‘could tackle food labour problem’

The Government’s seasonal worker scheme could be extended and its focus ‘changed’ as part of a plan to tackle labour shortages in food production.

Agricutlure Secretary George Eustice has indicated that the government is preparing to extend the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) this year to help tackle the UK’s HGV crisis.

Mr Eustice also said ministers were looking at ‘changing the focus’ of the scheme to push for more HGV drivers.

The scheme is mainly used by seasonal workers who are picking fruit and vegetables in the UK.

Speaking at the Balmoral Show in Northern Ireland, he said there was ‘an acute labour shortage at the moment right across the UK economy’.

He also said the government would be trying to encourage EU workers with settled status to return to the UK.

Like hundreds of firms across the country, BP is struggling amid the shortage of truck drivers.

The company outsources drivers through haulier firm Hoyer, and while it has 45 drivers coming through training, it is struggling to keep hold of them.

In the week beginning September 6, for example, 10 drivers joined and six left.

While BP hopes stocks will stabilise at some point in October, Ms Hofer warned: ‘We are are expecting the next few weeks to be really, really difficult’.

It is now calling on the Government to make it easier to recruit drivers from abroad.

Meanwhile, eco-mob Insulate Britain today made matters even worse, with an unhelpful protest at the Port of Dover this morning.

More than 40 activists across two groups have blocked the A20 road in Kent which provides access to the Port of Dover.

The port is the busiest ferry port in Europe and is the UK’s main gateway for trade from the EU.

A spokesperson for Insulate Britain outlined why the group, which wants the Government to insulate and retrofit homes across the UK, blocked Europe’s busiest ferry port on Friday morning.

They said: ‘We are blocking Dover this morning to highlight that fuel poverty is killing people in Dover and across the UK.

‘We need a Churchillian response: We must tell the truth about the urgent horror of the climate emergency. Change at the necessary speed and scale requires economic disruption.

‘We wish it wasn’t true, but it is. It’s why the 2000 fuel protests got a U-turn in policy and gave Blair his biggest challenge as Prime Minister.’

The spokesperson added: ‘We are sorry for the disruption that we are causing. It seems to be the only way to keep the issue of insulation on the agenda and to draw attention to how poorly insulated homes are causing ill health, misery and early death for many thousands of people.

‘We are failing the country’s cold hungry families and the elderly and placing an enormous burden on the NHS.

‘Insulating our leaky homes is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce carbon emissions and it has all these additional benefits – reducing fuel poverty, creating jobs, reducing the burden on the NHS and protecting people from overheating during future heat waves. It’s a no-brainer. Boris just needs to get on with the job.’

It comes as social media users claim their local BP garages were out of fuel this week.

‘No petrol on Monday 20th,’ wrote one, ‘Assistant did not know when they would get any and fed up of abuse from angry would be customers.’

Another added: ‘I suggest you come to Kent, my two local petrol stations have no petrol (but I think one has diesel).’

Another simply said: ‘My local garage, no petrol, no drivers…’

Minister for small business, Paul Scully told ITV News: ‘We are concerned about BP and other sectors where we are hearing those stresses coming to bear.

‘This is why we are having regular conversations to see what government can do to increase testing, to increase the supply of drivers and bring drivers back.  We also want to see what the industry/ sector can do for themselves.’

Trade association Logistics UK has called on ministers to provide up to 10,000 temporary work visas for trained EU drivers to paper over the cracks.

The Government has so far rejected these calls, instead insisting firms recruit from a pool of British workers.

It comes as shorter, fast-track HGV tests have been mooted as a potential solution to help plug the spiralling vacancies in the haulier industry.

Industry experts say better pay and improved working conditions are needed to help improve staffing levels – and put the shortage largely down to Brexit and the pandemic, which led to 14,000 European drivers going home and just 600 of those returning.

The Road Haulage Association said the total number of people in the UK with HGV licences this summer was 516,000.

But the latest Department for Transport data shows 278,700 HGV drivers were employed in 2020, equivalent to 54 per cent of the total.

It comes as it was more than 500,000 over-50s have withdrawn from the UK labour market since the start of the Covid pandemic, an employment expert today revealed.

The sudden withdrawal of hundreds of thousands of staff, plus a drop in the number of migrant workers and an increase in the number of students has led to record numbers of job vaccancies, according to Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘It’s right (that there are fewer workers around). The labour market is much smaller than it was before the pandemic began.

‘We estimate that there is about a million fewer people in the labour market now than there were before the crisis began and probably about a quarter of that is explained by lower migration and that’s mainly lower immigration since the pandemic rather than higher emigration.

‘About 500,000 of that is explained by more people over 50 who have withdrawn from the labour market. That’s compared with what we would have expected to happen, because over 50s employment and labour market participation has been growing for decades, but that growth has now reversed.

‘So it’s about half a million is explained by over 50s, while 300,000 is explained by young people in full time education – so more young people more in education.

‘And there is a little bit which is furlough, which is ending next week, but it looks like that may only be between 200,000-300,000 workers, so it could be around one million workers.’

Speaking to Sky News, the Opposition MP said: ‘There are shortages of HGV drivers in other countries.

‘I have to say, however, that there have been big failures in planning for this situation and the additional red tape that has been created, which was not inevitable, it was not an inevitable result of Brexit in many cases, but that hasn’t been tackled by Government.

‘I talk to advanced manufacturers in my patch for example, and they tell me that now they have got to fill in dozens of pages of paperwork and that is quite a tall order for a HGV driver if they have got to be dealing with all of that, as well as getting goods from one place to another.

‘So undoubtedly the Government’s method of implementing Brexit has had an impact overall on the system, but there are other factors that are in play here.

‘And I think their failure to consider whether they need to ask that Migration Advisory Committee about a different approach to shortage occupations – I really do think they should be engaging with business on this and listening to them.’

Asked what the sudden spike in over-50s dropping from the labour market, he said: ‘It’s a combination of factors. A lot will be the pandemic. It will be people who will have been furloughed, who have taken time away from the labour market and simply aren’t returning.

‘Some of it will be people who feel they can’t go back to work, they may have been shielding for example and may come back in the future.’

The lorry driver shortage is one of several issues threatening to plunge Britain into a winter of discontent.  A huge surge in gas prices is threatening to leave Brits without energy this winter. 

Mr Kwarteng today suggested people should be hoping for a warm autumn to ease gas prices – as ministers were slammed for refusing to boost storage capacity years ago.

Dragged back to be grilled by MPs on the crisis, the Business Secretary stressed the weather is the ‘single most important determinant’ of costs. The comment came hours after Boris Johnson made a speech at the UN warning of the dangers of climate change.

But he denied the Government had been ‘complacent’ about the issues and repeated that there will be no ‘reward for failure’ bailouts for collapsing energy firms, amid warnings that big suppliers will soon come ‘cap in hand’ for support. 

Mr Kwarteng has admitted there are no guarantees that gas prices will go back to previous levels, despite the government striking a deal to stave off a shortage in CO2 threatening to cause food shortages.

As the problems bite, there have been calls for VAT to be cut on energy bills while ministers are believed to be looking at a windfall tax on fatcat energy firms profiteering.

Meanwhile, there are complaints that ministers did not heed pleas to increase the UK’s gas storage capacity – which could have given more time to handle the pressures. 

In the Commons, Labour MP Rachael Maskell, who represents York Central, said: ‘The rise in energy prices will disproportionately impact people living in the North because it is colder during the winter in the North.

‘So what assessment has he made of the regional disparities and how is he going to mitigate against that?’

Mr Kwarteng replied: ‘I think the honourable lady raises a very fair point and clearly in terms of the gas price the single most important determinant of it is the weather, and she’s absolutely right.

‘That’s why we’ve got schemes like the Warm Home Discount and that’s why we’re absolutely focused on protecting the most vulnerable customers, wherever they are in the UK.’

How the gas crisis has erupted… and how it could get worse

WHY ARE GAS PRICES RISING SO SHARPLY?

The economy is opening up from its pandemic lows, so demand for gas is increasing.

Europe is also about to start entering winter, when gas demand will be highest, especially from countries such as the UK which overwhelmingly rely on gas to heat homes.

WASN’T THAT QUITE PREDICTABLE? 

Yes, but a perfect storm of other problems has also hit the sector. Supply from Russia has dried up recently, and demand is high in Asia, which is putting pressure on international markets.

In the UK, several gas platforms in the North Sea have closed to perform maintenance that was paused during the pandemic.

In a further stroke of bad luck, cables that import electricity from France were damaged last week, and September has not been a very windy month. These problems have meant that more gas is needed to produce electricity.

SO WHAT PROBLEMS ARE BEING CAUSED?

The high demand and low supply has been sending wholesale prices spiking, putting smaller energy suppliers under huge pressure.

They are less likely to have ‘hedged’ by buying energy well in advance so they can manage costs over the longer term. As a result they face having to buy energy at ‘spot’ prices and incurring huge losses. 

Five have gone bust over the past month or so, and there are concerns more could follow.

Ofgem has systems to allocate their customers to other suppliers. But appetite to take people on might be limited given the strains caused by rising wholesale costs, and the fact the government’s cap limits scope for putting up prices.

Inevitably as the cap is updated this autumn and then next spring consumer bills will go up sharply – possibly by nearly double.

Aside from direct energy prices, there are also severe and less obvious knock-on effects.

For example, fertiliser plants have temporarily shut due to the high costs, and they produce CO2 that is used in food processes such as animal slaughtering, and even for medical operations.

The Business Secretary insisted the industry and market will find the solution to the energy crisis.

Responding to an urgent question, he told the Commons: ‘The Government has been clear that protecting consumers is our primary focus and shapes our entire approach to this.

‘We will continue to protect consumers with the energy price cap.

‘The solution to this crisis will be found from the industry and the market, as is already happening, and the Government – I repeat – will not be bailing out failed energy companies.’

Mr Kwarteng maintained the price cap will remain in place.

Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband quoted a letter from energy regulator Ofgem warning of a ‘systemic risk to the energy supply as a whole’ which had been sent 18 months ago.

He accused ministers of being ‘complacent’ about the shock that rising gas prices could wreak upon the market, as well as families and the cost of living.

But Mr Kwarteng said Ofgem’s concerns had been ‘interrogated’ during the coronavirus pandemic, with the supplier of last resort programme, where consumers are automatically transferred to a new provider if their supplier exits the market, was ‘found to work’.

Millions of families face paying more than £400 extra as the ongoing crisis causes further suppliers to collapse.

Two more energy firms with a combined 800,000 customers, Avro Energy and Green Supplier, went into administration yesterday.

Dozens of other companies are under threat including Bulb, which supplies 1.7million homes.

Customers on cheap tariffs with failed firms face being bumped up to the capped rate of £1,277 – a rise of at least £400.

Energy watchdog Ofgem described the situation as ‘unprecedented’ and confirmed bills would rise further.

The bleak warning came as food chiefs said supply problems caused by shortages of drivers and farm workers were deepening.

‘Our concern is that the pictures of empty shelves will get ten times worse by Christmas and then we’ll get panic buying,’ said Andrew Woolfenden of Tesco.

Twelve industry groups, led by the National Farmers’ Union, predicted the situation would get worse without a new visa regime to draw in foreign workers.

Customers with failing energy firms will be switched to new suppliers charging much higher tariffs, which is likely to add at least £400 extra to the cost of heat and light.

The chief of Green, Peter McGirr, told the BBC this morning that he had done nothing wrong and bigger suppliers would soon face problems.

Mr McGirr said: ‘You will see larger suppliers feeling the pain as well and they will come cap in hand for a bailout.’

George Grant of Stag Energy, said he had tried but failed to get support for the Gateway Project just off Barrow-in-Furness.

‘The proposal was for a salt cavern gas storage facility in what’s been acknowledged by the British Geological Survey as the best salt structure for such a service in the UK,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

‘It was about 12 miles off the coast. The philosophy behind this is that you create caverns within the salt and it’s a very good medium to store gas.’

But he said they had ‘finally given up’ on getting the project to go ahead.

‘In 2004, when we first spoke to the government, there was a lot of interest in new gas storage. We got to the financial crash in 2008 when credit requirements on long-term contracts became much more challenging.

‘It was at that point that we really started to engage more with the government about potential support mechanisms or some form of intervention to ensure there was adequate security of supply in the gas sector.

‘The government, in their wisdom, chose to run with a just in time approach. There is on an annual basis plenty of gas around the world and lots of liquid gas being shipped around, but the challenge we’re seeing at the moment is a confluence of events including low wind production and the subsequent high demand for gas, supplies being drawn into China and the fertiliser plants going off.

‘As a result there has been a shortage of supply and prices have risen accordingly.

‘Additional storage in the UK would have certainly helped in this situation.

‘The message we’ve given to the government is that you can’t turn around when there is a crisis and call for a facility like this. The lead time is about ten years from getting sufficient encouragement and structure around financing to actually building it.

‘Energy infrastructure is a long term business that goes beyond election cycles.’

At least 1.5million consumers have seen their suppliers go to the wall in recent weeks after the energy sector was hit by rocketing global wholesale gas prices.

Business minister Paul Scully confirmed there is pressure on the energy price gap, which he said is saving dual-fuel energy customers around £100 per year, but that it will be up to the regulator Ofgem to determine if it should rise.

The cap is currently due to next be reviewed in April.

Mr Scully told Sky News: ‘This is all part of the conversations that Ofgem will set that cap at, because supply prices are based on a number of factors.

‘Clearly, as Government, we need to make sure we are planning for the worst-case scenario because we want to make sure we can protect consumers.’

What companies are supplying energy?

The government has been trying to open up the UK’s energy market to more competition, meaning there are far smaller players involved than there used to be.

The traditional Big Six tend to use their reserves to ‘hedge’ against changes in prices, and can withstand sharp increases.

Outside that group there are four larger ‘challengers’ that are also fairly well-established.

But then there are dozens more, often little-known, suppliers that have been trying new approaches and look far more vulnerable to the shifts.

Pressed on what the worst-case scenario looks like, he added: ‘That it goes on for longer than a short spike. I can’t give you a figure now.

It comes as food supply chains have also been placed under intense stress in recent weeks because of the shortage of around 100,000 HGV drivers – with empty shelves seen across UK supermarkets as a result.

Speaking to ITV’s Robert Peston last night, Tesco chairman John Allan warned of a perfect storm of issues and said efforts were being made to avert a ‘horrendous crisis at Christmas’.

He said: ‘I think it’s almost impossible to forecast, but I mean I think we’re probably looking at, for food overall, you know, mid-single digit increases which is much higher than we’ve had in recent years.

‘I think certainly while we get through this particular set of issues that we’re contending with, which include shortage of labour in a number of important areas of food manufacturing, shortage of HGV drivers, which can be fixed, and we’re all working very hard to fix.’

Gifts may also have to change with several industries also admitting shortage fears as supply and driver issues hit.

Chris Bonnett, the founder of GardeningExpress.co.uk, warned that Christmas trees could also see a shortage as lorry driver shortages in Denmark are expected to impact imports to the UK with any Covid related restrictions further adding to the problems.

He’s also expecting a surge in demand after last year’s muted celebrations as families and friends celebrate the festivities together.

Denmark is a major producer of live Christmas trees with around 90% of its crop exported to other European nations.

Mr Bonnett said: ‘The last few years have played havoc with the Christmas tree market. Mild winters in Scandinavian countries have made it more complicated to fell trees.

‘Add in the Covid restrictions in place last year and the current shortage of lorry drivers and you can see why we’re concerned that there could be a shortage of trees.

‘A Christmas tree is an essential part of the festivities, not just on Christmas Day but in the run up – picking the tree, squeezing it into the car and decorating ahead of the celebrations.

‘This year it’ll mean even more after the locked down restrictions of last year which is why we’re already seeing a surge in the number of customers searching for Christmas trees.

‘Hopefully between now and December, things will improve.’

Bonnett added: ‘We are seeing issues with disruption across the retail sector, from food and drink to gifts and clothing.

‘For Britons really wanting to go all out to celebrate this year, the best advice is to plan ahead and get all the essentials pre-ordered so you can enjoy the festivities without the stress.’

Meanwhile, industry body the Toy Retailers’ Association said there would be less choice than previous years for parents wanting to buy toys for their children over Christmas.

Suppliers blamed rising shipping costs and the ongoing shortage of HGV drivers for potential shortages.

TRA chair Alan Simpson said to parents: ‘If you see it, buy it.’

‘If you think you are going to go into toy stores in December as you normally would do… and you are going to get what you want, you will be very disappointed,’ he added.

Barry Hughes, managing director of Golden Bear Toys, based in Telford, described it as ‘a perfect storm’.

He said: ‘Undoubtedly we are going to see prices rising. It is not just going to be toys, it will be everything.’

Demand for vinyl is at record levels in the UK, however, a lack of producers and distribution issues means shortages could be ahead.

Artists have been forced to push back release dates for new music while awaiting vinyl production, while sellers have reported delays of up to a year for records to be created.

The pandemic, they say, has exacerbated the situation, something that major booksellers in the UK, including Waterstones, have also reported.

Foyles and Daunt Books founder James Daunt said. ‘We will have shops fuller than ever before to make sure we don’t get caught by logistics problems as we did last year.

‘My concern is that at the beginning of December if we need 50,000 copies of whatever unforeseen literary hit and it’s not there’

However, Tesco boss Mr Allan insisted there was no need to panic buy and that Christmas would not be ‘terrible’.  

He said: ‘I don’t think the end result will be a horrendous crisis at Christmas. I would hate for people to get the impression that we are going to have a terrible Christmas and they’ve got to go out and panic buy.’

Yesterday, Tesco revealed it was currently suffering a shortfall of approximately 800 HGV drivers as it urged the Government to ease restrictions on foreign workers to help alleviate the supply chain crisis.

Despite being the UK’s largest supermarket chain, and offering new employees a £1,000 bonus since July, Andrew Woolfenden, Tesco’s distribution and fulfilment director, warned they were still unable to make up the lost numbers.

Slamming the problem as ‘industry-wide’, Mr Woolfenden compared companies desperately trying to recruit from a limited pool of expert drivers to ‘moving deckchairs around’.

He warned ITV News: ‘Our concern is that the pictures of empty shelves will get ten times worse by Christmas and then we’ll get panic-buying.’

Despite gaps appearing on supermarket shelves across the country this summer, consumers are yet to see a return of full-scale panic buying that was endured at the start of the pandemic.

But concerns are continuing to grow should demand suddenly surge again – with replenishing empty shelves already an issue for most major UK retailers.

Trade association Logistics UK has called on ministers to provide up to 10,000 temporary work visas for trained EU drivers to paper over the cracks.

The Government has so far rejected these calls, instead insisting firms recruit from a pool of British workers.

It comes as shorter, fast-track HGV tests have been mooted as a potential solution to help plug the spiralling vacancies in the haulier industry.

Industry experts say better pay and improved working conditions are needed to help improve staffing levels – and put the shortage largely down to Brexit and the pandemic, which led to 14,000 European drivers going home and just 600 of those returning.

The Road Haulage Association said the total number of people in the UK with HGV licences this summer is 516,000. But the latest Department for Transport data shows 278,700 HGV drivers were employed in 2020, equivalent to 54 per cent of the total.

The crisis, which has also been made worse by Covid-related delays to testing new drivers, has seen supermarket shelves across the country go empty as companies struggle to restock their products.

But Tesco’s chief Mr Woolfenden issued the stark warning that consumers could see even more barren shelves by December – alongside a return of panic buying.

A spokesperson for the supermarket said: ‘We have good availability, with deliveries arriving at our stores and distribution centres across the UK every day.

‘While the industry-wide shortage of HGV drivers has led to some distribution challenges, we’re working hard to address these and to plan for the months ahead, so that customers can get everything they need.’

Exacerbating the issue is a roaring debate over limited nationwide supplies of CO2, commonly used in the food and drink industry, and how the Government plans to ensure families don’t have to choose between ‘heating’ and ‘eating’ this Christmas.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson triumphantly declared yesterday that ‘Christmas is on’, after the Government struck a short-term, taxpayer-funded deal with CO2 producers to avert food shortages.

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