Richard North, 09/10/2021  
 


We knew it all along, but it's useful to have iNews confirm it. Throughout the petrol supply crisis, deliveries to filling stations barely fell. Massive levels of panic buying were the leading cause of fuel shortages, borne out by an analysis of fuel data carried out by the paper.

In the run-up to the fuel shortage, deliveries did fall in England although only marginally, says the paper. At the start of September, fuel deliveries fell by around 200 litres per filling station on average. But just months before, fuel deliveries had fallen by considerably larger amounts.

But, at the start of September, an abrupt uptick in demand for fuel coinciding with the slight drop in deliveries created a slight mismatch between supply and demand. This mismatch barely registered when comparing supply and demand earlier in the year, when far larger mismatches had occurred.

However, as more people became aware of the shortage – triggered initially by the report on ITV News - sales of petrol skyrocketed. By the 20 September, a Monday, buying across England started to increase, with sales increasing by a third on that day alone. With that, we were in the midst of a massive scare and all it needed were the media pictures of queues to keep it going.

This, of course, will have no impact on certain high-profile remainers. In their eyes, this will always have been caused by Brexit, along with every other ill affecting this country at the moment and forever more.

But, whether Brexit or not, there is a discernible tendency in the media at the moment to link some of the high profile problems affecting us, to form a continuous narrative. The bundle of woes thus becomes greater than the sum of its parts, leaving an overall impression of a nation in despair and disarray.

The print edition of iNews captures this tendency, with a headline heralding a "Winter and spring of discontent". It not only ladles in in the familiar travails, such as the disruption in "Britain's food, fuel, gas and labour markets", but adds the shipping crisis, the prospect of imposing tighter Covid rules this winter, and even the Insulate Britain protests and a growing strike threat in our refineries.

There was something of this in the BBC main 6pm television news yesterday, when it ran energy as its lead, with a complaint by "steel bosses" that the government had failed to find solutions to halt soaring energy prices.

This came via UK Steel boss Gareth Stace, speaking after leaders of energy-intensive industries met with Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. "We can't wait until Christmas and beyond. Or even a few weeks. We need action now, it needs to be swift, decisive action", Stace said.

All they got, though, were a few dead-bat phrases. The government would assess the options put forward by the industry, Kwarteng's spokesperson burbled: "We recognise the recent increase in global gas prices will be a cause of concern for businesses in the UK", saying: "We are in regular contact with Ofgem and business groups to explore ways to manage the impact of rising global prices".

Kwarteng himself descended from on high to stress the government confidence in the security of gas supplies this winter. "Nothing can go wring, go wring, go wring… ", seems to be the government line, so much so that it is not planning to increase the UK's gas storage capacity, claiming that questions over storage were a "complete red herring".

Following its first report, illustrated by steel furnaces emitting showers of sparks, the BBC moved quickly on to the pig crisis, interviewing a tearful East Yorkshire farmer, Kate Morgan, declaring that it is "criminal" that she may have to cull her animals while "there are people starving in the world".

Morgan said that unless the government acts to solve a nationwide shortage of butchers and abattoir workers she may have to kill the pigs. She complains that, "Even in this country there are people who can't feed their families, yet Boris [Johnson] is quite happy to let us waste good healthy food - healthy protein he's prepared to put in the bin" "We're desperate for Boris to listen to us".

Kate Morgan is good value for money as she also gets a showing on Sky News, offering much the same fare. Huffpost even runs the story, having Kate "on the verge of tears", as she says: "We are doing our jobs. This is not the farmers’ fault".

If there is a common thread here, it's basically, that it's the government to blame – and it's for government to take action, whether on gas prices or the availability of abattoir workers.

The government is certainly in the frame on a related issues for, as Kate Morgan contemplates killing her pigs, the Independent reports that cheap EU pork is flooding UK,. while the government "are standing by and watching this happen".

German producers, it seems, have been limited in their ability to export pork to China, a crucial market, because of EU-wide episodes of African Swine Fever. This has created a surplus on the EU market, which is being diverted to the UK, taking advantage of the delay in imposing border checks – which should have started this October.

According to one "leading supplier", a normal animal that goes to slaughter weighs around 85kg and the cost of producing it is around 160p a kilo. But UK producers are being undercut by European prices. Some processors have been buying pigs at 75-80p a kilo. With these prices, British farmers could be losing £20,000 a week.

Meryl Ward, who runs a family farm in Lincolnshire, is cited, saying that retailers' shelves are being filled by foreign-imported pork that doesn't meet our welfare standards. And this, as much as the fabled abattoir worker shortage, might be the reason why pigs are backed up on farms.

Pig farmers, however, don't seem to be getting any sympathy from environment secretary George Eustice. He suggests that they might have to slash their prices in the short term, to clear the backlog. Yet, if there really is an abattoir labour shortage, it is not clear how this can have any effect.

Then, sneaking under the radar is yet another problem, reported recently in The Times - the perennial shortage of vets. This has arch-villains Eville & Jones whingeing about the "big challenges" for the supply and trading of meat next year if English-language requirements for overseas vets are not relaxed.

Charles Hartwell, chief executive of the company, which has a contract to supply vets to abattoirs in England and Wales, says he was "just about managing" to keep up with demand after the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) scrapped an English test exemption for European Union vets.

The RCVS said this week that it would make it easier for overseas vets to pass the test. It has also temporarily relaxed the requirements to a greater extent for abattoir vets. However, Hartwell said it needed to go further to avoid disruption to food supply chains next year. If the language requirements were not permanently made easier, then the country would not be able to recruit abattoir vets, he said.

Thus, Harwell is looking to perpetuate the situation where cheap foreign vets are used in British abattoirs to enforce British law, who can't even speak English properly. Once might ask of Johnson, in what way does this signify that Brexit has been "done"?

Such is the shortage of vets, though, that in the Veterinary Times we see a report that many practitioners have reached a "breaking point". Writer Jordan Sinclair tells of "impossible" workloads, and fears that "many practices and ultimately, the whole profession, will implode".

Never fear though, Pizza takeaways are doing good business, as the Home Office spends £6,000 on Domino's pizzas to feed Channel migrants. At least, the government can claim, it is supporting British business. Who said Brexit was all bad?

Also published on Turbulent Times.






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