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‘Tell us how you are going to protect food supplies’

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THE Island’s largest retailer has called for the government to release its plans to safeguard Jersey’s food supplies in the case of a no-deal Brexit, claiming it has not seen any ‘robust’ proposals.

Tony O'Neill Picture: ROB CURRIE. (25819801)

With the UK potentially leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement on 31 October, SandpiperCI chief executive Tony O’Neill said that time was ‘getting short’ to make preparations, such as stockpiling and arranging alternative freight routes, in case supply chains were disrupted.

Last week, the government said that the threat to food supplies, in particular fresh produce, was one of its biggest concerns in a no-deal scenario and it was working with local retailers to address the matter.

Doubts remain over whether Portsmouth, from which Jersey receives most of its freight, would cope with backlogs should new border checks be applied to goods traded with the EU.

The Channel Islands Co-operative Society has confirmed that it is once again planning to stockpile items after storing up to 15,000 cases of ambient goods, such as pasta, cereals and cans, at its reopened Bellozanne warehouse earlier in the year before the initial Brexit deadline of 31 March.

Acting chief executive Mark Cox said similar plans were being made again.

‘We’ve been working closely with the Co-operative Group which has been importing and stockpiling food products within the UK to help deal with any post-Brexit shortages,’ he said.

‘As a community retailer we are aware of the impact no-deal Brexit disruption may cause to Islanders and we want to be prepared for this. We will do our utmost to make sure the supply chain has as little disruption as possible.’

‘We are now once again preparing for a no-deal Brexit on 31 October. We are looking at increasing ambient stock in all of our stores, where the date code allows us to.’

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But Mr O’Neill said that his firm needed to know what the government’s plans were before they could make their own.

‘At our urging, the lines of communication [with the government] are now open with food retailers,’ he said.

‘We have yet to understand or have sight of a robust end-to-end plan but trust that government will be sharing that with us imminently as time is now getting short.

‘Once we understand the steps government are taking to provide extra storage and guarantee boat deliveries, we will engage with them on forward buys of ambient products. At the moment we do not have visibility of those plans.’

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SandpiperCI runs the Marks and Spencer, Morrisons Daily, Checkers Express and Iceland stores in the Channel Islands.

In response to his comments, a government spokeswoman said that its contingency options for Brexit would soon be shared with retailers.

‘In advance of a potential no-deal Brexit, the Government of Jersey has engaged with local businesses on supply-chain issues, including close engagement with authorities in Portsmouth and colleagues in Guernsey. We appreciate the particular concerns raised by food retailers,’ she said.

‘We have been developing a range of contingency options dependent on certain Brexit scenarios, and we will share these scenarios with retailers. The preparation of these scenarios is complex given recent changes within the UK government and our reliance on up-to-date information from national partners on their planning for UK infrastructure resilience and traffic flows.

‘We continue to strongly encourage retailers, and all Island businesses, to develop their own business continuity plans for a no-deal Brexit.

‘In January, the government produced a Brexit business checklist in partnership with Jersey Business and the Jersey Chamber of Commerce. Full details of this checklist are available at gov.je/brexit.’

Mr Cox said that several options were being considered by the Co-op to prevent food shortages including stockpiling, greater use of local suppliers and acquiring two additional trailers for storing frozen food.

He added, however, that Brexit could mean the Co-op needed to reduce the range of products it offered and could force food prices upwards.

Meanwhile, in the UK, major food retailers including Tesco, John Lewis, the Co-op and Sainsbury’s were due to meet Michael Gove, the minister in charge of no-deal Brexit preparations, following a row over his statement to the BBC earlier this month that there would be no shortages of fresh food. The British Retail Consortium said this claim was ‘categorically untrue’.

Retailers have expressed concerns about the timing of Brexit coming when warehouses will be full of Christmas stock and the UK growing season has ended, and how to handle consumer response to no-deal including panic-buying and stockpiling.

Ian Heath

By Ian Heath
author

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