Opinion: Is the supply chain reaching Brexit Breaking Point?

With the EU transition period set to cease on 31 December, attention has fallen onto the role of British ports in the supply chain.

Those in the construction industry have been feeling the pinch of coronavirus related supply issues through 2020, so with January looming, will the supply chain collapse as merchants run dangerously low on stock? Kevin Wellman, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE) give his view:

The Guardian newspaper recently reported that since September, the port of Felixstowe has seen demand rise by 30%, due to ‘businesses rushing to replenish stock after the end of lockdowns and building stockpiles before the end of the Brexit transition period.’ The knock-on effect at Britain’s largest container port has been congestion and delays, but it is no isolated problem.

The reality is that at ports across the land, raw materials such as wood and steel are being held up, as are finished products manufactured overseas. Adding to the problem is the issue of ships making a “cut and run” partially unloading their cargo or missing out their UK stops entirely, opting for ports with capacity on the continent instead.

The logistical nightmare doesn’t just stop there as the price of shipping has also risen sharply, meaning that suppliers are paying over the odds to get their products into the country. With further uncertainty over the new tariffs and rules due to kick in from January 1st 2021, the pressure to get stock through the ports is mounting.

I fear that Brexit will impact on the UK for quite some time. While we applaud the work manufacturers are doing to support the entire supply chain, it’s clear that the knock on effects of delays are severe. It is the installers and their customers who will lose out if products and materials cannot get to site on time.

Many engineers have slipped through the net of Government financial support during the pandemic. They will be facing the added frustration and financial pressure of jobs cancelled due to a lack of supplies and price hikes in line with the costs of shipping. With online marketplaces still not legally responsible for stopping dangerous products from being sold, the CIPHE is concerned the current situation will leave the floodgates open for counterfeit goods.

We urge all engineers to be cautious if sourcing products and materials from unknown alternative providers. Non-compliant goods may not have been manufactured to recognised bona fide standards and are likely to be low quality. There is no doubt the black market in plumbing and heating parts has the potential to grow in the current climate, putting lives at risk and exposing installers to potential legal repercussions.