Northern Ireland hauliers hit by huge costs to bring their empty lorries home

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, although 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.

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 said.

“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.

“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 haulier’s 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.

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