‘That’s not what I’m asking!’ Fiona Bruce corners Eustice on risks of Christmas being axed

Question Time: Fiona Bruce grills Eustice over Christmas

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George Eustice appeared on BBC Question Time and defended the Government over the HGV driver shortages and supply chain issues which have caused some empty shelves across the country. Audience members were concerned the issues could cause disruption to Christmas with some retail analysts arguing some shops could be empty of toys, food, and other Christmassy items. Mr Eustice tried to give a vague answer on whether Christmas was safe or not but host Fiona Bruce quickly brought him back on topic and demanded an answer.

Retail analyst Clive Black of Shore Capital argues the UK will experience a “nightmare” Christmas where turkey, beer, and toys could be in short supply.

They said: “I expect Christmas will be a nightmare. Shortages of labour have meant businesses have not laid down the same number of turkeys or planted the same number of crops.

“The HGV driver shortage is compounding the problem. A lot of people eating on Christmas Day will be asking, ‘What the hell is this?’

“Equally if the CO2 problem does not settle, expect beer and carbonated soft drinks to be in short supply – and a lot more expensive.”

Mr Eustice appeared on Question Time and was asked about what is being done to prevent a terrible Christmas.

The Government is allowing several thousand temporary visas to be awarded to European workers to plug the Labour gap. 

He explained: “The real reason we are bringing in these visas is that in the two weeks leading up to Christmas there is typically a 50 percent increase for fresh produce and fresh meats.

“Supermarkets would not order the food they think is perishable so we are making sure we have that additional driver capacity for that short term and these supermarkets would bring on temporary drivers to boost their delivery capacity [during that period anyway].”

Ms Bruce wanted to know whether the measures being explored by the Government would save Christmas and solve the supply chain issues.

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Mr Eusitce began going off on a tangent about the HGV fleets and how they would be increased before being scornfully told by the Question Time host she was not asking that question.

He then addressed the issue of Christmas being saved and said: “Yes, we believe, and we have been working closely with the supermarkets.

“And although it’s undoubtedly the case there is a shortage of Labour right through the economy at the moment – typically most businesses are carrying vacancies between 12 – 14 percent.

“That’s a fairly typical figure, although we’ve got those shortages they are managing to keep their output going and provided we can get sufficient HGV capacity and bring in the seasonal Labour that we need for sectors like turkey.

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“Then yes, we will get the food to the supermarkets for Christmas.”

Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband said: “It is Conservative complacency that has led to the fuel crisis, energy costs crisis, and supply chain crisis our country is experiencing, with ministers ignoring warnings from businesses and failing to plan ahead.”

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) says over 100,000 more HGV drivers are needed in the UK to meet demand.

The RHA say around 20,000 drivers left the UK because of “Brexit reasons” with many more Britons also leaving the sector.

A combination of the pandemic, testing backlogs, and changes in labour have also been blamed for the shortfall.

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