Christmas presents in peril due to port delays

A large, red, container ship at Felixstowe port as seen from Shotley Picture: MICK WEBB

A large, red, container ship at Felixstowe port as seen from Shotley Picture: MICK WEBB - Credit: Mick Webb

Hauliers have alleged that chaos at the Port of Felixstowe could lead to Christmas stock being delayed, causing major financial hardship for already struggling firms.

Firms from around Suffolk say the port has failed to provide enough slots for lorries to get into the port to load and unload freight over recent months, with the problem reaching a head after lockdown as the volume of freight increased.

Staff at haulage firms also say trying to get slots to go on to the port through the vehicle booking system (VBS) has become a full time job, which is a drain on resource.

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A statement on the Port of Felixstowe website, posted last week, said: “We continue to experience very high demand for road and rail capacity as the volume of imports into the UK continues to surge post-lockdown.

“In response to high demand for VBS slots, the port released over 1,600 additional slots in the last week and extended Sunday opening hours, allowing hauliers to access containers for UK shippers.

“We apologise to any customers experiencing delays and we are confident that the measures above, and close cooperation with our partners, will address these operational challenges.”

The port also said there were an average of 749 VBS slots unused each day.

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But hauliers say that there are actually fewer VBS slots available than there were 10 years ago and the unused slots are mainly at another terminal where there are no containers.

One mid-sized Suffolk haulier who asked to remain anonymous said: “There has been no attempt at all to make the VBS more workable for the haulage community since it has been in existence.

“Retail will suffer. The whole country suffers because we cannot get our containers into warehouses quick enough.

MORE: Suffolk MP backs Sizewell C as deadline for ‘interested parties’ passes “[If nothing changes] haulage companies will unfortunately disappear because they can’t trade.”

Another Suffolk haulier said attempting to book VBS slots meant he does not sleep at night as the slots can be released at any time.

He said: “I’m up 24/7 at the moment trying to get a VBS number.

“You wake up on the hour every hour trying to get a slot – and most operators you speak to are doing the same thing.

“You sit at work all day trying to get a VBS number.

“You go home, and your wife tries to speak to you: ‘What are you doing?’

“‘Oh, I’m on the computer getting VBS numbers.’

“It is putting people through unnecessary stress and strain.”