Pro-Brexit Retail Boss Calls for Relaxing Immigration Rules
(Bloomberg) -- The chief executive officer of Next Plc warned of possible further supply chain problems in the run-up to Christmas if the U.K. doesn’t relax some post-Brexit immigration rules and allow more overseas workers into the country.
Simon Wolfson, who was a prominent supporter of Britain’s exit from the European Union, said the U.K.’s current immigration system isn’t reacting quickly or “vigorously” enough to labor shortages, as evidenced by the current difficulty in finding skilled truck drivers.
“Visas were only granted when petrol queues started forming, when this crisis had been forewarned for so long and so loudly by so many people,” he said on a media call in London on Wednesday. “We need the immigration system to start looking forward.”
A severe shortage of truckers in Britain has made it harder for retailers like Next to deliver goods to stores and homes. Many European drivers returned to the continent after Brexit, creating a skills gap that is exacerbating problems in the supply chain caused by pandemic restrictions and higher costs.
After months of resisting calls by business to relax visa rules for workers such as drivers, the government agreed to issue a limited amount after petrol deliveries were stymied last week.
“The government could have granted more visas earlier,” Wolfson said. “Our country will be a lot more prosperous if we have the right immigration system in place. Any system has to be able to respond more quickly to skills shortages.”
Next Raises Profit Forecast Again After Strong Lockdown Recovery
Supply chain disruption has brought Next’s stock levels down 12% from two years ago, which has noticeably affected sales in some areas, Wolfson said. However, he expects some of the bottlenecks to ease in coming months and said Next wasn’t anticipating major shortages at Christmas. It’s more likely that consumers may experience some degradation in service and find they have to allow longer time for deliveries, he said.
While Next is able to absorb most of the higher costs it’s facing in the supply chain, clothing prices will probably rise by 1% next year and home furnishings by 6%, Wolfson said.
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