To beer or not to beer? Wetherspoons runs low on several beer brands

October 1, 2021


3 min read

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What's going on here?

Wetherspoons has announced that several of its pubs have suffered shortages of beer due to supply issues; many point to Brexit and Covid as the root of the problem.

What does this mean?

After struggling to obtain beer brands such as Heineken, Carling and Coors, Wetherspoons is now one of the many victims of supply shortages. Other notable casualties include Nando’s, McDonalds and Greggs. The repercussions have been felt beyond the food and drinks sector: for example, Ikea has reported a shortage of mattresses as of recent.

The key factor linking all these companies’ supply issues is a shortage of HGV drivers. The Road Haulage Association notes that the UK is short of 100,000 drivers. Although this shortage is not necessarily new, Covid and Brexit have hugely exacerbated the issue. Due to the Covid pandemic, there have been driving test backlogs, as well as European HGV drivers going back home and not returning. While for some this may be a personal choice based on pay or working conditions, Brexit has arguably been the real obstacle with its tough new immigration rules.

What's the big picture effect?

As noted, Brexit is a major reason for the driver and resultant goods shortages. Some note the great irony in how one of Brexit’s most fervent supporters – Tim Martin, Wetherspoons’ boss – has become one of its principal casualties. Given that the UK is no longer in the EU’s single market, European drivers cannot enter the UK freely. Post-Brexit, foreign drivers now require visas to work in the UK and the Home Office has been unwilling to add HGV drivers to the Shortage Occupations list which allows workers to qualify for skilled work visas.   

Although many in the haulage and logistics industry have called for (Brexit) immigration rules to be loosened to solve the driver and goods shortages, the government openly rejects these calls. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng criticised the method as being a “short-term temporary solution” and Transport Secretary Grant Schapps claims that Brexit is our chance to have new immigration rules and build a “more resilient” domestic workforce.

The want for a “more resilient” workforce explains government plans to push  the haulage industry to train and employ UK drivers or for firms to make employment more attractive by offering better career options, training and wages. Some companies are already pursuing this route: Tesco has introduced a £1000 joining bonus for new drivers whilst Aldi and Waitrose have increased wages. Furthermore, the government has already increased drivers’ daily driving limit and plans to tackle the problem further by streamlining the domestic process for HGV drivers to get their licenses. Only time will tell whether such a domestic-centric approach will pay off, especially considering that the UK workforce is currently suffering from a huge skills deficiency.

The potential impacts of an ongoing driver shortage are numerous. Beyond the supply shortages we are already witnessing, James Bielby, chief executive of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, has warned that wage increases for drivers to make employment more attractive will eventually be passed onto consumers. With arduous working conditions making current drivers unhappy on top of deterring new drivers, strike action and hence worsened supply shortages could remain on the cards.

Report written by Lauren Ainscough

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