MPs urged to investigate port congestion as Christmas and Brexit hit

The Port of Felixstowe has been experiencing congestion during the Christmas and Brexit transition period

An inquiry into port congestion has been called for as the Christmas and Brexit transition period has caused delays in places such as the Port of Felixstowe. - Credit: Alan Boyle

Retailers and food manufacturers have called on MPs to investigate congestion at container ports - including Felixstowe - during the hectic period of festivities and the end of Brexit transition.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) claim they face "major challenges".

The Port of Felixstowe  has been experiencing congestion problems for weeks, with shipping disrupted by the pandemic - as well as issues in October with the vehicle booking system.

MORE: Problems with the vehicle booking system at the Port of Felixstowe continue

Traders at the Suffolk port also faced delays recently due to a huge backlog of personal protective equipment (PPE) stored there, with the equivalent of 11,000 containers of masks, gloves and aprons taking up significant proportions of available space.

In a joint letter to the chairs of the Commons Transport Select Committee and the Commons International Trade Committee, the BRC and FDF wrote that some shipping costs have more than doubled compared with last year.

One food manufacturer has suffered lost sales worth more than £1 million due to a shortage during the crucial festive period, the letter stated.

The BRC and FDF want the committees to hold an inquiry into the chaos at ports and the functioning of the shipping market.

MORE: UK Chamber of Shipping, UK Major Ports Group and Logistics UK call on government to ease port delays

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BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: "The lead up to Christmas is the most important time of year for retailers, ordinarily accounting for up to a fifth of the entire year's sales and generating a large part of annual revenues.

"After a tremendously challenging 2020, many firms' cashflows are under severe pressure, and so businesses are in no position to absorb these additional shipping costs.

"As a result, consumers will pay the final price. Christmas orders could be delayed, and retailers might be left with no option but to increase product prices.

"These issues must be addressed urgently. An inquiry would provide the scrutiny needed to help get our ports flowing freely again."

FDF chief operating officer Tim Rycroft added that food and drink manufacturers are extremely concerned about the delays too.

He said: "Our members are incurring costs totalling tens of thousands of pounds, and in some cases hundreds of thousands."