Hauliers are spending tens of thousands of pounds bringing empty lorries to Northern Ireland, an industry spokesman has said.
Seamus Leheny, of Logistics NI, said exports of goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain are doing well, however less is coming back across the Irish Sea as suppliers are faced with new customs demands.
There is a varied picture at shops in Northern Ireland, with empty shelves evident in some parts of some supermarkets – while others appear well stocked.
Seamus Leheny, policy manager at Logistics UK (Liam McBurney/PA)
First Minister Arlene Foster described it as “entirely unacceptable that these issues continue to persist”.
“They have to be dealt with urgently, my colleagues at Westminster will be raising some of those issues this week and I’ll continue to have those conversations with Michael Gove.
“We’re asking for solutions to what are real meaningful problems affecting our haulage industry, affecting our car dealers, affecting people receiving parcels or rather not receiving parcels. All of those issues have to be dealt with.”
Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs has urged other parties to back a recall motion for the Assembly to sit this week to discuss the matter, calling for urgent modifications to help businesses and consumers.
More than 100 haulage firms operate across the Irish Sea, ranging from large operators to smaller family run businesses.
Mr Leheny said one told him they had spent £24,000 bringing empty lorries from Great Britain due to less produce being transported to Northern Ireland.
“Exports are doing well. NI produce is hitting the shelves of supermarkets across GB,” he told the PA news agency.
“However that’s creating a problem because hundreds of lorries are leaving NI every day for England, but because the suppliers in GB have these formalities to comply with to send their goods to Northern Ireland, a lot of them have either suspended or are delaying loads.
“So then they are having to ship loads back to Northern Ireland empty at their own expense, that’s a terrible hit for any haulier, it’s burning money, because there are driver wages, fuel and ferry costs.
Lorry drivers and officials talk at the DEARA site near Belfast Port (Liam McBurney/PA)
“One haulier last week told me they spent £24,000 shipping empty trailers back to Northern Ireland, trailers that would normally be coming back laden.
“A hauliers business model is based on having a full load going out and full load coming back.”
Retailers are faced with more paperwork and checks following the end of the Brexit transition period.
“The work of a haulier is to have the right data in the right format at the right time, and a lot of the time, that isn’t happening so it means loads can’t leave GB and are delayed,” he said.
“The suppliers to Northern Ireland really need to get on top of this quickly. Some hauliers are managing better than others, a lot of that comes down to either their own preparation or the commodities and who the shippers are. Some commodities are more complicated to move than others.”
Mr Leheny said work is ongoing to reduce the burden but said ultimately grace periods need to be extended and longer term solutions found.
He has called for action from the special joint committee of UK and EU officials which oversee the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“We need to see that committee take some pragmatic solutions, some could be short term, but it would alleviate pressures for industry and give us the breathing space to look at more long term solutions, but we need time to develop those,” he said.
“What is unique about Northern Ireland is that our high street is comprised of the same retailers as across the rest of the UK and that is why the nature of our supply chain is very unique, entering the single market. We’re the only part of the EU single market which is part o the UK high street and that has to be recognised.”
A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “A small number of our products are temporarily unavailable for our customers in Northern Ireland while border arrangements are confirmed.
“We were prepared for this and so our customers will find a wide range of alternative products in our stores in the meantime and we are working hard to get back to our full, usual range soon.”
A UK Government spokesperson said goods are flowing effectively and in normal volumes between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
He added: “For that to continue it is vital that all traders and businesses in their supply chains engage fully with the new processes for moving goods into NI, as the majority are doing.
“While most businesses are well-prepared, we know that awareness of the new procedures needs to improve among suppliers in Great Britain, and we are stepping up our communication and engagement with them to ensure they have all the information they need.
“We also recognise some of the specific challenges faced by the haulage sector and we are working intensively with industry to resolve these.”
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