When our roads didn’t turn into giant, sprawling fleets of trucks in the first few months of this year, the county breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps Brexit, the most controversial issue of modern times, was not going to be as dire as opponents predicted.
But over the course of the year, a crisis, fueled by the decision to leave the European Union, has gradually, stealthily, spread its tentacles around many of the services and products that we expect and rely on.
From beer shortages in pubs to cafes and restaurants struggling to find the staff they need to function, the impact of an exodus of workers over the past 18 months has been extremely damaging; its impact on different sectors.
Brexit, of course, was the ultimate political football; dividing the population among the claims and counterclaims of its likely impact. Only a global pandemic could dethrone him from the status of the nation’s favorite subject.
Yet, as we take interim measures to move away from the restrictions the virus has placed on our lives, the shadow of our separation from the EU is now casting obscurity. Covid and Brexit are proving to be a debilitating toxic cocktail.
Both have helped vacancies hit an all-time high – just as businesses are looking to bounce back from the ravages of the past 18 months.
“At the end of the day,” says Folkestone Recruitment Solutions employment agency boss Joe Brady, “there are more vacancies and fewer applicants. I’ve never experienced anything like it, to be honest, and Brexit is playing its part. in that. “
“I don’t think we can tie everything to Brexit,” admits Lesley Whybrow, green adviser in Folkestone & Hythe district council, “but it’s much worse as a result.
“We’ve seen a lot of vacancies in the hospitality industry here; a clear indication of a staff shortage
“I think it was totally predictable – it could have been avoided.”
Folkestone provides insight into one town’s struggles against the challenges facing many people, not just in Kent, but across the country right now.
The city’s history is intrinsically linked to its proximity to the mainland. Formerly a very busy cross-Channel port, housing ferries, hovercraft and catamarans; now it is best known for the entry and exit point of the Channel Tunnel at neighboring Cheriton.
Today, he uses art and an exciting array of food and drink outlets to entice visitors – with considerable success.
But take a look at the major job websites and the dozens of openings in bars, restaurants, and hotels paint a picture. Even the likes of his beloved Rocksalt restaurant are looking for new recruits.
A shortage of drivers has already caused problems for those who live and visit the city.
A pilot relay bus program in Cheriton to transport visitors to Folkestone harbor had to be suspended due to a shortage of drivers, with the bus company Stagecoach deploying its workforce to work on the main routes of the city.
While the bin collections were disrupted due to the pilot issue – a problem compounded by the so called “Pingdemic”.
Much has been written about the impact of shortages due to the truck driver crisis – something all too visible with empty shelves in our supermarkets as supply chains are affected. But the impacts are broad and the effects likely to be long-lasting.
A major employer in Folkestone is the plant company Plamil.
Explains its Managing Director, Adrian Ling: “Supply chains are extremely complex. For us, we are a manufacturing company, we make chocolate. We buy 300 individual items that go into 100 to 150 other items that we distribute. I heard there was maybe a 1-2% supply problem. Well, that’s maybe six articles. But where we have our production schedules, which are all complicated, if one item doesn’t show up it can have a huge impact on everything we do.
“We started seeing it in March and April and it has worsened since then.
“It’s a combination of Brexit, Covid and, I would say, the mismanagement of those. We will see this as a growing problem until some of these issues are resolved.”
And he ominously warns, “If people think it won’t affect them, it will. “
He points to the ripple issues that could see his farm struggling to get Easter eggs into stores in time for next year.
David Wells, Managing Director of Logistics UK, based in Tunbridge Wells, formerly known as the Freight Transport Association, explains: “The current shortage of around 90,000 truck drivers is putting unbearable pressure on retailers and their chains. ‘supply. While there was a shortage of heavy-duty drivers before the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, these two events made the situation worse; the pandemic halted driving training and testing for more than 12 months, while around 14,000 EU drivers returned home during the pandemic and after the end of the transition period. “
Road Haulage Association Southeast Regional Director Graham Pask adds, “It’s a perfect storm of problems. .
“Because of Brexit, many European drivers have returned home. We have asked the government, in the short term, to put them on the list of essential workers.”
So far, at least, the call has met with resistance, but with taxi drivers and bus companies also voicing concerns, the need for action may become too great to ignore.
Even those in the city who expect to receive their flu shots will feel the impact with delays in the arrival of vaccines due to freight issues.
The hospitality industry has been hit by the staff crisis more than most. With workers fleeing a sector so hard hit by closures in search of more job security, the situation has worsened with the departure of many workers from the EU. The costs are felt in the business – not just in the difficulties of recruiting.
Neil Lomas, manager of the city’s Best Western Clifton Hotel, explains: “The laundry company we use had to increase wages for staff to deliver deliveries to us. That’s a 13% increase for me and, on a busy month, an additional £ 1,000. That’s an additional cost of £ 12,000 a year for nothing at all. And it is only a supplier. “
The stay trend may have helped the results, but it’s easy to see how the summer income can easily be consumed by rising essential costs.
Yet despite the myriad of challenges, many believe that Brexit will fulfill the wildest dreams of all of its supporters … ultimately.
Terence Mullard is Ukip Advisor on the Folkestone Council.
He says: ‘If you are a real Brexit supporter it has always been said there would be a bumpy road on the way and yes we are going through that now. But’ real Brexit ‘says Britain will take care of it. ‘itself, we will create our own truck drivers.
“Brexit is causing start-up problems, which everyone knew from the start, but Britain needs to pull its finger off pretty quickly and train more people.
“It’s a complex system – yes you can blame Brexit a bit. Did that change my mind? No. Because we will come out the other side and it will be beautiful, sunny and brilliant. “
Remember if we are faced with empty shelves this Christmas.
How is Brexit affecting Kent? For all the latest news, views and analysis, visit our dedicated page here.
Visit our business page for all the latest business news in Kent
Read more: All the news from Folkestone