Sep 30, 2021
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Next boss warns on supply chain issues, calls for immigration policy change

Sep 30, 2021

Next, one of Britain's biggest clothing retailers, warned it may struggle to deliver its normal service in the run up to Christmas unless the government relaxes post-Brexit immigration rules to allow more workers into the country.

Photo: Sandra Halliday

Britain is already facing disruption caused by worker shortages. A dearth of truck drivers in the world's fifth-largest economy is already threatening fuel supplies and has led to some gaps on supermarket shelves, with many blaming Brexit.

Next, led by the Brexit-backing Simon Wolfson who has previously warned against cutting immigration, said this week that its clothing and homewares stores and online shop could be affected in the run-up to Christmas, Britain's peak buying season.

"We anticipate that, without some relaxation of immigration rules, we are likely to experience some degradation in our service in the run up to Christmas," the retailer said.

Finding staff for warehousing and logistics jobs for the peak season was beginning to come under pressure, it added.

Next hopes that Britain will temporarily allow foreign workers to come to the UK, reversing post-Brexit labour rules. To tackle the shortage of drivers, the government last week said it would issue temporary visas to 5,000 foreign drivers.

Reuters reported on Monday that warehouses in Britain are having to pay up to 30% more to recruit staff after worker shortages exacerbated pressure on already buckling supply chains and threatened to derail the seasonal buying spree.

Next said its stock levels were currently down 12% compared with the period before the pandemic but it said it had got better at operating with less stock.

Hiking wage offers will not solve a shortage of seasonal warehouse workers, Wolfson said. “The big issue isn’t the cost actually, the big issue is just availability.

“We don’t think that the solution to that is increasing costs (wages) although inevitably there will be some. The issue is just the availability of people who want to do that work”.

Wolfson said the answer, particularly for seasonal work, lies in an immigration policy that makes the best use of the contribution that people from overseas can make to the British economy. “At the moment the system doesn’t do that.” 

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