The government announced it will work with local authorities to extend the hours that deliveries can be made to supermarkets and other food retailers to help the industry cope with the additional demands placed supply chains during the coronavirus crisis.
Current rules mean that deliveries are prohibited overnight so that vehicles do not disturb residents. The government will temporarily relax the enforcement of restrictions to give greater flexibility.
This will mean stocks can be moved more quickly from warehouses to replenish shelves that have been depleted by people stocking up on supplies in anticipation of a major COVID-19 outbreak in the country.
The move comes after Environment Secretary George Eustice spoke with representatives from the country’s leading supermarkets, who said relaxed curfews would help them manage increased consumer demand.
“We have listened to our leading supermarkets and representatives from across the industry, and we are taking action to support their preparations. By allowing nighttime deliveries to our supermarkets and food retailers we can free them up to move their stocks more quickly from their warehouses to their shelves,” Eustice said.
“Our retailers have well-established contingency plans in place and are taking all the necessary steps to ensure consumers have the food and supplies they need.”
‘This is a time for everyone to come together’
Responding to the announcement, the British Retail Consortium’s food and sustainability director Andrew Opie said the decision was part of a ‘productive’ dialogue between government and industry.
Further adjustments could be made to extend the ability of supermarkets to deliver products to consumers' homes as the prospect of increasing numbers of people self-isolating looks more likely.
“The government is also looking closely at measures to ensure supply chains continue to function as normal. The Transport Secretary stands ready to implement existing rules that allow for extensions on drivers’ hours to help respond to emergency situations, as needed.
“These rules would help the industry respond to any shortage of delivery drivers but would still require 45 minute breaks after four and a half hours of driving to make sure drivers are properly rested. The government would work closely with employers on any use of these rules to make sure the safety of drivers and other road users is protected,” Orpie noted.
Orpie stressed that supermarkets are working ‘round-the-clock’ to minimise disruption and meet spiking demand. However, he continued, responsibility for getting supplies to vulnerable people needs to be taken by society as a whole.
“Where people are self-isolating, it is up not just to supermarkets, but also friends and neighbours to support them in getting the goods they need. This is a time for everyone to come together and support one another, particularly those who are vulnerable.”