Minister insists supply chain crisis ‘improving’ but toy shops warn customers to buy early for Christmas

·3-min read
Felixstowe port has suffered from backlogs  (Reuters)
Felixstowe port has suffered from backlogs (Reuters)

The supply chain crisis at the UK’s largest commercial shipping port is “improving”, according to a government minister, despite retailers warning shoppers to buy early for Christmas.

It came as a major global shipping company diverted vessels away from Felixstowe in Suffolk and to other ports in Europe, citing a backlog of containers in Britain.

The decision by Maersk prompted fears of delivery delays just as consumers start buying goods for the festive period.

Conservative Party co-chairman Oliver Dowden insisted the government is “working through these challenges” amid a build-up of cargo at UK ports.

He told Sky News: “The situation is improving. I’m confident that people will be able to get their toys for Christmas.

“Some people buy very early for Christmas - my wife is quite an early Christmas buyer – others buy later. I would say just buy as you do normally.”

However, the issue of building backlogs at the ports has seen some retailers warning of potential shortages this winter.

Gary Grant, who runs the toy store The Entertainer, warned it would be difficult to ensure shelves are stocked across the country.

“There'll never be toy shops with no toys,” he said. “There will be toy shops without all the toys that they would normally expect to have due to the shortages, and that is largely down to transportation and warehouse issues, rather than there being a shortage of toys.”

He said that he expects Barbie dolls and Paw Patrol toys to be among the children's favourites most likely to run out fast.

Robert Gliddon, owner of Gliddons Toy Shop in Sidmouth, Devon, urged consumers to “buy now” to avoid Christmas disappointment amid fears that ongoing supply chain problems will result in higher prices and empty shelves.

He said: “It’s not just shortages – you’ve got to face the reality of price rises, anything from 10 per cent to 15 per cent on anything from across the seas.”

He advised consumers: “If you see it, buy it, and be prepared to pay more [just] before Christmas.”

Mr Gliddon said his shop is currently well stocked as a result of heavy ordering over the last two months in anticipation of supply issues in the run-up to Christmas, when demand is heaviest.

Meanwhile, UK Major Ports Group chief executive Tim Morris told the PA news agency: “Our view would be that there’s no need to panic. The global supply chains are very busy, but they’re pretty robust.

“There’ll be short-term fluctuations, but retailers, their suppliers, all the logistics companies that work in between the manufacturing and the sales side will be working really, really hard to keep supplies moving.”

The UK’s port industry has also warned that some ports are managing access to storage space with “short-term restrictions” in a bid to ease congestion issues.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Congestion at the Port of Felixstowe is yet another unwanted side-effect of the HGV driver shortage.

“As cargo cannot be removed fast enough, there is a backlog of containers at the ports which is preventing new ships from docking and unloading.”

Additional reporting by PA

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