Ministers rush to dampen fears of panic-buying in runup to Christmas

Ministers rush to dampen fears that staff shortages, soaring energy bills and global supply-chain woes will lead to panic-buying in runup to Christmas

  • Hundreds of thousands of shoppers have already booked Christmas delivery slot
  • Toys, clothes, chocolate and toilet rolls could become more scarce in weeks 
  • One in six British shoppers has been unable to buy essential food items at stores

The Government was last night rushing to dampen fears that staff shortages, soaring energy bills and global supply-chain woes will lead to panic-buying in the run- up to Christmas.

Toys, clothes, chocolate and toilet rolls are among products that could become more scarce within weeks as manufacturers wrestle with soaring costs.

The Confederation of Paper Industries said sectors including food packaging could also be impacted. Director general Andrew Large warned that costs could ‘go up through the roof’.

Meanwhile, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that around one in six British shoppers has been unable to buy essential food items at stores over the last fortnight.

According to the ONS study, 17 per cent of adults found that the essential food items they wanted to purchase were unavailable. Almost a quarter found the same problem with non-essential food items. A supermarket is pictured above in London on September 21

It came as a survey of 1,000 people by retail magazine The Grocer suggested two-thirds were worried or very worried at the prospect of food and drink shortages over Christmas.

Cabinet Office Minister Steve Barclay sought to allay fears by pledging the Government’s support for the private sector and saying that the Army could be deployed.

Mr Barclay’s intervention lays bare concern across Whitehall that supermarkets could be confronted with the kind of scenes recently witnessed on forecourts.

A number of major companies have warned that there may be shortages this winter. Nestle said it was facing challenges that could hit the availability of products including Quality Street chocolates, and Walkers Shortbread in Scotland is facing difficulties due to a lack of staff.

Hundreds of thousands of shoppers have already booked their delivery slots for Christmas. Waitrose saw 22,000 slots booked by lunchtime on the first day of releasing its dates last week.

Mr Barclay’s intervention lays bare concern across Whitehall that supermarkets could be confronted with the kind of scenes recently witnessed on forecourts

Boris Johnson has hired former Tesco boss Sir Dave Lewis as his new supply chain crisis tsar and has tasked him with clearing ‘blockages’ and ‘pre-empting potential future ones’. 

According to the ONS study, 17 per cent of adults found that the essential food items they wanted to purchase were unavailable. Almost a quarter found the same problem with non-essential food items.

Mike Watkins, of analysts NielsenIQ, said: ‘Shoppers tend to leave most of their Christmas grocery shopping later in November, but this year we’re seeing late-November demand brought forward into October because of the concerns consumers have heard about.’

Aldi said it was hiring 1,500 temporary staff for the Christmas rush.

Meanwhile, the fuel crisis was continuing to ease this weekend – although up to a third of retailers in the South East reported having either no or limited supplies. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted supply levels are ‘close to normal range’, but research by the Petrol Retailers Association’s found 12 per cent of filling stations have run out of fuel in the South East and 17 per cent have only one grade of diesel or petrol.

Shelves empty across UK on sell-out Saturday as supply crisis leaves one in SIX Britons claiming they have been ‘unable to buy essential food’ – and a third start Christmas stockpiling – ahead of winter squeeze

  • Pictures show aisles at some supermarkets already bare of meat, fruit and frozen goods across the UK yesterday
  • Shoppers were also seen pushing trolleys laden with toilet roll and water bottles ahead of the festive season
  • One in six British adults have been unable to buy essential food in last fortnight in latest sign of panic-buying 
  • Hundreds of thousands of shoppers have already booked in delivery slots for December 25, shows a survey
  • Top Government figures are reportedly considering keeping soldiers on to drive HGV lorries over Christmas

Shelves have been left empty across the UK yesterday morning while millions of shoppers claim they have been unable to buy essential foods in the past two weeks, as Britain’s supply chain crisis continues.  

Pictures show aisles at some supermarkets already stripped bare of meat, fruit and frozen goods as customers were seen pushing trolleys laden with toilet roll and water bottles ahead of the festive season.

New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show around one in six Britons have been unable to buy essential food items in the last fortnight in the latest sign of UK panic-buying. 

A survey of 1,000 consumers by The Grocer revealed that two thirds of shoppers were either worried or ‘very worried’ by potential shortages of food and drink in the run-up to Christmas. 

To ensure they get their dinner on the table for December 25, hundreds of thousands of shoppers have already booked in their delivery slots for Christmas with one in three shoppers already starting to stock up on groceries.  

Waitrose saw 22,000 festive slots booked by lunchtime on the first day of releasing their dates last week, while 112,000 had been booked by the end of the week. Ocado, which is releasing slots more slowly, has sent out a ‘sorry if you haven’t been able to a Christmas Slot in time’ reply on its FAQ page. 

Now, top Government figures have reportedly said that they are considering keeping soldiers on to drive HGV lorries over Christmas in a bid to prevent food shortages, as Britain is plagued by a series of crises, with soaring gas prices and HGV shortages causing chaos.

Elsewhere, Boris Johnson appointed former Tesco boss Sir Dave Lewis as his new supply chain crisis tsar with a remit to clear ‘blockages’ and ‘pre-empt potential future ones’ after dismissing concerns over labour shortages, Britain’s creaking supply chain and fears over rising inflation.

In the latest developments on Britain’s supply chain crisis:

  • A giant DVLA office where 6,000 civil servants work is more than half empty – while there is a 56,000 backlog of HGV licenses – largely thanks to a militant union using Covid to keep staff home;
  • Former chancellor Lord Lamont called for an interest rate hike and changes to the Bank of England’s quantitative easing policy to keep soaring inflation in check and fight the cost of the living crisis;
  • Millions of families face a £100 levy on their gas bills under plans to phase out conventional boilers by 2035, with ministers wanting to ‘incentivise’ households to buy cleaner energy;
  • The cost of some fixed-rate energy deals hit almost £3,000 as Ofgem’s chief executive warned some of the ‘unprecedented’ rise in wholesale gas prices would have to be ‘passed through’ to consumers;
  • Industry leader Dr Richard Leese warned the Government that factories and industrial plants across the country are already slowing production ahead of the season due to skyrocketing energy costs;
  •  The National Grid prompted fears of blackouts with a warning over electricity supplies this winter, and more energy firms were expected to collapse, with customers being switched to suppliers charging higher tariffs; 
  • Andrew Large, director-general at the Confederation of Paper Industries, warned the Government that there are ‘serious’ risks factories could stop all activities as a result of the gas prices being too high.

Early shoppers pictured at Costco in Manchester yesterday. Britain has been plagued by a series of crises in recent weeks, with soaring gas prices and HGV shortages causing chaos

A shopper is pictured pushing a trolley loaded with toilet roll and water bottles outside Costco in Manchester yesterday morning

To ensure they get their dinner on the table for December 25, hundreds of thousands of panicked shoppers have already booked in their delivery slots for Christmas, shows a survey. Pictured: an early shopper in Manchester yesterday

A Sainsburys worker restocks on toilet rolls at a supermarket in Enfield, North London, yesterday. Waitrose saw 22,000 festive slots booked by lunchtime on the first day of releasing their dates last week

A shopper is pictured outside a Sainsburys in Enfield, North London, yesterday. Top Government figures have reportedly said that they are considering keeping soldiers on to drive HGV lorries across Christmas in a bid to prevent food shortages

Amid fears of food shortages in the coming months and panic buying leading to empty supermarket shelves, one in six adults have been unable to buy essential food items in the last fortnight. Pictured: a shopper in Enfield, North London, yesterday

Shoppers seen pushing trolleys laden with water bottles as they stock up at a Costco superstore in Bushey, Hertfordshire

A shopper seen stocking up on water bottles at a Lidl superstore in Harrow, Middlesex, yesterday. Six in 10 people said their food shopping experience had been different to usual

Shoppers pictured stocking up at a Tesco superstore yesterday. A fifth of Britons said items that they needed were not available but they could find a replacement, with a further fifth saying they could not find a replacement

New figures from the Office of National Statistics said around one in six Britons have been unable to buy essential food items in the last fortnight

A shopper is pictured pushing a trolley laden with water bottles as he stocks up at a Costco store in Bushey, Hertfordshire

A survey of 1,000 consumers by The Grocer revealed that two thirds of shoppers were either worried or ‘very worried’ by potential shortages of food and drink ahead of the festive season

Amid fears of food shortages in the coming months and panic buying leading to empty supermarket shelves, one in six adults have been unable to buy essential food items in the last fortnight.

Some 17 per cent of adults said they had not been able to purchase such goods because they were not available, according to the ONS.

While almost a quarter of adults said the same for non-essential food items, the ONS found after analysing responses from 3,326 adults between September 22 and October 3 as part of its Opinions and Lifestyle survey. 

It asked about people’s experiences of shortages over the past fortnight and overall, 57 per cent of people said everything they needed was still available to buy.

One in seven residents were unable to buy fuel as fears of petrol shortages and struggles with HGV driver recruitment led to drivers queuing for hours to get fuel and petrol stations being forced to close due to low supplies. 

Six in 10 people said their food shopping experience had been different to usual, while 43 per cent said there was less variety, and 14 per cent had to go to more shops to get what they needed.

A fifth of Britons said items that they needed were not available but they could find a replacement, with a further fifth saying they could not find a replacement.

Thirteen per cent of adults also reported waiting longer for prescriptions and four per cent of people had to go to more pharmacies to find what they needed. 

A mince meat shelf is left bare at a Sainsburys in London Colney, Hertfordshire, yesterday morning amid signs of UK panic-buying

A sign telling customers that some products are ‘temporarily unavailable’ at a Sainsburys branch in Hertfordshire yesterday

Empty shelves pictured near water bottles at a Sainsburys supermarket in London Colney, Hertfordshire, yesterdaymorning

A largely empty frozen goods section seen at a Sainsburys supermarket in London Colney, Hertfordshire, yesterday morning

An industry leader has warned Boris Johnson (pictured) that factories across the country could stop production due to rising energy costs amid fears of a ‘winter of discontent’

Analysis of price rises in the last year shows the cost of a second-hand car has risen more than £1,600, a tank of fuel is up more than £10 and the price of a pint of beer is creeping close to £4

Exclusive research for the Daily Mail by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) also yesterday revealed how inflation will cost the typical family of four an extra £1,800 by the end of this year. Meanwhile, a retired couple can expect to see living costs rise by more than £1,100, and a lower income couple could be stung by nearly £900

Amid fears that empty supermarket shelves will continue and worsen as Christmas approaches, hundreds of thousands of panicked shoppers have already booked in their delivery slots for the festive season.

A survey of 1,000 consumers by The Grocer revealed that two thirds of shoppers were either worried or ‘very worried’ by potential shortages of food and drink ahead of the festive season.

Supermarkets have been ramping up orders for turkey, the trimmings and other essentials to cope with an earlier than usual rush, according to the magazine.

Retailers have warned of empty shelves and delays to gifts due to gaps in the global supply chain and a lack of HGV drivers, amid concerns of a ‘winter of discontent’ hitting the UK.

School dinner choice is slashed and staff told to stockpile ‘long-life, dried and frozen food’ amid fears suppliers will struggle to keep children fed with shortages this winter 

School dinner choices are being slashed and staff advised to stockpile essential food supplies amid fears suppliers will struggle to keep children properly fed this winter.

ISS, one of the UK’s largest canteen suppliers, has reportedly told 450 schools it is having issues with ‘sourcing, packing and distribution’, predicting that the problem will ‘get worse’ over the winter and will continue until February.

School canteens were advised by ISS in an email to stockpile ‘long life, dried, tinned and frozen’ products to make sure children can still be fed in a ‘worse case scenario’ this winter, according to ITV News.

Meanwhile, food wholesaler BidFood has warned that it is experiencing ‘significant’ supply pressures and struggling to recruit HGV drivers, blaming the issues on the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit.

In Lancashire, thousands of pupils are being offered a reduced menu, The Times reported.  

‘One school this week has not had a delivery of sandwiches. Another, no soup was sent. One school cook has even reported going out and purchasing additional items out of her own money as she was concerned about the choices on offer,’ Samara Barnes, a Labour councillor, told Lancashire Live.

‘This is a grave concern, especially given the fact that we know some children rely on their school dinner as their only meal of the day.’

Over the past month, one in ten businesses have put up prices due to rising inflation which is yet to peak, according to economists.

Mike Watkins, of analysts NielsenIQ, told The Grocer: ‘Shoppers tend to leave most of their Christmas grocery shopping later in November, but clearly this year we’re seeing late-November demand brought forward into October because of the concerns consumers have read and heard about, turkeys being a great example.’ 

Amid the panic buying, record numbers of panicked shoppers are already booking supermarket delivery slots for December.

Waitrose saw 22,000 festive slots booked by lunchtime on the first day of releasing their dates last week, while 112,000 had been booked by the end of the week.

Ocado, which is releasing slots more slowly, has sent out a ‘sorry if you haven’t been able to a Christmas Slot in time’ reply on its FAQ page.

Tesco is not releasing slots to customers on its Delivery Saver scheme until November 15 and for others on the 23 – the same dates as last year.

Supermarkets are not the only place that are experiencing shortages, as footballer Marcus Rashford said some of the food banks he works with have been experiencing supply issues.

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘They’re struggling to do what they love doing because there’s a shortage of food and of course it’s something that we’re going to have to find an answer to, and quickly as well because you know people are out there and they need the meals and especially going into winter.’

Elsewhere, Boris Johnson yesterday appointed former Tesco boss Sir Dave Lewis as his new supply chain crisis tsar with a remit to clear ‘current blockages’ and ‘pre-empt potential future ones’.

The 56-year-old is nicknamed ‘Drastic Dave’ due to the lengths he will go to to turn around businesses, including job cuts and slashing prices, and ‘Diamond Dave’ because of his success at Britain’s biggest supermarket and at Unilever before that.

Mr Johnson has insisted it is not his job to ‘fix every problem in business’ caused by Brexit and the pandemic and repeatedly dismissed concerns over labour shortages, Britain’s creaking supply chain and fears over rising inflation.

But the appointment, welcomed by business leaders, is a sign Downing Street has growing concerns about the crisis after weeks of product shortages, queues at petrol stations and the growing threat of Christmas staples such as turkeys, pigs in blankets and gammons being scarce. 

Aldi is hiring 1,500 temporary store staff to deal with the expected Christmas rush and Island, which has seen frozen turkey sales up 409 per cent compared to the same period last year, has upped its order from suppliers by 20 per cent. 

Aldi recruitment director, Kelly Stokes, said: ‘We always need extra support over the busy Christmas period but this year especially, temporary store colleagues will play a vital role in keeping our shelves stocked as the nation prepares to reunite with their loved ones after missing out on festive celebrations in 2020.’

Mr Johnson has a lot riding on the festive period, having promised last week that ‘Christmas will be considerably better than last Christmas’.

Former Tesco chief executive Sir David Lewis has been appointed as the Government’s supply chain adviser

Partially empty shelves at a Sainsburys supermarket in London Colney, Hertfordshire, today

Supermarkets are not the only place that are experiencing shortages, as footballer Marcus Rashford said some of the food banks he works with have been experiencing supply issues

 

A survey has revealed that families will be doing more to celebrate this year than they did before the pandemic despite concerns about shortages wreaking havoc.

Households across the UK will be pulling out all the stops to make sure this festive season is more special than ever, after missing out on much of the fun last year due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The findings are published in the second edition of the M&S Family Matters Index, out this week, which explores the priorities, challenges, ambitions and plans of families.

The South East is STILL in the grip of fuel crisis: One third of petrol stations are dry or short on supply despite Grant Shapps’ claim UK levels are ‘close to normal range’ 

The South East is still in the grip of a fuel crisis – with a third of petrol stations dry or short on supply – despite Transport Secretary Grant Shapps yesterday claiming supply levels are ‘close to normal range’. 

The Petrol Retailers Association’s research showed that 12 per cent of filling stations have run out of fuel in the region, while 17 per cent have one grade of diesel or petrol.

Under 75 per cent of petrol stations have both diesel and petrol in London and south-east England, as opposed to 90 per cent outside those areas. 

The figures are at loggerheads with Mr Shapps’ claims that the issue is almost entirely over. 

He told GB News: ‘In London and the South East, supply levels in petrol stations are getting very close to the normal range and we’ll see them opening up in a day or too. 

‘There was never a shortage of fuel in the refineries and storage stations. As soon as people queue up to fill up fuel you get into a situation where you get a run on something like we saw with toilet rolls. 

‘The amount of fuel in the petrol stations themselves is about double what it was at the low point.’   

Some 39 per cent of 5,000 British adults said they will do more to celebrate Christmas than they did before the pandemic hit, with more effort also planned for Easter, Diwali and Hannukah.

One in three say they will do more in future to celebrate family birthdays, and more than one in five say this of New Year’s Eve and relationship anniversaries. 

However this year families face the threat of the lack of supplies reaching the UK due to labour shortages, Britain’s creaking supply chain and fears over rising inflation.

Yesterday afternoon France’s European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune even threatened to cut off supplies of turkeys and other goods unless continental fishermen are allowed to work in British waters. 

It is the latest threat from across the Channel in a dispute over access to rich fishing grounds from next year, including the possibility of cutting electricity supplies to Channel Islands Jersey and Guernsey.

It came as fears were raised yesterday of another toilet roll shortage as industry bosses warned spiralling costs will hit production – and baked beans became the latest food staple to face price increases.

Downing Street said former supermarket chief executive Sir Dave will advise the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and work with Government officials to quickly resolve acute, short-term issues. 

He will also co-chair a new supply chain advisory group and be based in the Cabinet Office.

A No10 spokesman said: ‘This includes both identifying the causes of current blockages and pre-empting potential future ones, and advising on resolutions either through direct government action or through industry with Government support.’

Mr Johnson said: ‘I’m pleased that Sir David Lewis is joining the team who have been working on future-proofing our supply chains across the United Kingdom as we recover from the pandemic. There are currently global supply issues which we are working with industry to mitigate and Dave brings a wealth of experience which will help us continue to protect our businesses and supply chains.’

Business leaders have welcomed the appointment and said they hope it is a sign that No 10 is willing to listen to their concerns.

Hannah Essex, Co-Executive Director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: ‘We very much welcome the appointment of Sir David Lewis.

‘Hopefully Sir David, and the new groups he co-chairs, will be able to hit the ground running and urgently address some of the critical issues damaging business conditions. 

The energy crisis has been blamed, in part, on a shortage of natural gas caused by Vladimir Putin allegedly ‘choking’ supplies to Europe

Experts claimed Putin was using the crisis as leverage over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which is run by Gazprom. Pictured: An output filtration facility of a gas treatment unit at the Slavyanskaya compressor station

Kremlin confirmed existing gas transit routes already allow for more supplies. Pictured: Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project logo on a large diameter pipe at Chelyabinsk Pipe Rolling Plant

‘The increasing pressure that businesses, especially SMEs, are facing around supply chain costs and disruption, labour shortages, price rises, soaring energy bills and taxes is becoming dire.’

Meanwhile, a French minister yesterday threatened to cut off supplies of Christmas turkeys unless continental fishermen are allowed to work in British waters. 

Paris’s European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune lashed out at the UK’s Brexit ‘failures’ and said that France’s trawlermen would not ‘pay the price’ for the UK’s decision to leave.

It is the latest threat from across the channel in a dispute over access to rich fishing grounds from next year.

French fishing barons earlier this week gave Britain two weeks to grant them more access to its waters or face being cut off from crucial Christmas supplies.

They handed down the ultimatum a day after skippers vowed to block the port of Calais and the Channel Tunnel unless their demands were met.

Speaking to BFM TV in France yesterday Mr Baume – one of Emmanuel Macron’s most outspoken ministers, vented on the subject again. 

Paper industry boss warns it’s ‘very, very clear’ that factories in ALL sectors across the country could close within weeks as gas prices continue to soar 

One industry leader has warned the Government that factories across the country could stop production due to rising prices.

Andrew Large, director-general at the Confederation of Paper Industries, attended a meeting on Friday with the Business Secretary and other representatives of energy intensive industries to discuss the wholesale gas crisis.

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4’s PM programme afterwards, Mr Large claimed it was ‘very clear’ across all of the sectors that there are ‘serious’ risks factories could stop all activities as a result of the gas prices being too high. 

At his Conservative Party conference speech earlier this week, Mr Johnson promised that the UK would become a ‘higher-wage, higher-productivity economy’. 

Mr Large said: ‘When we talked with the Secretary of State this afternoon, it was very, very clear across all of the sectors that there are serious risks of effectively factory stoppages as a result of the costs of gas being too high to bear, and in those circumstances, there will be a gradual knock on effect through supply chains, right the way across manufacturing, consumer retail and other products. And so the risks are very, very real.’

When asked what this would mean for the paper industry, Mr Large said it would be incredibly damaging for profitability.

But Mr Large did say the meeting was a ‘positive, first step’ to look at the solutions they had proposed and that Kwasi Kwarteng ‘clearly furthers our desire to avoid any potential supply chain disruption’.

The Energy Intensive Users Group (EIUG) echoed Mr Large’s comments, saying it welcomed the opportunity to meet the Business Secretary and is pleased he wants to find practical solutions to the challenges members face going into this winter. 

UK Steel boss Mr Stace told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: ‘The prime minister this week is calling for a high wage economy.

‘The steel sector already does exactly that – we pay our workers 45 per cent higher wages in regions where steel is, they’re highly skilled as well.

‘If you’re paying as much for gas and electricity as we are as a steel sector, then these unprecedented price rises are hurting us now today.

‘If the prime minister and government does nothing to help us, they could start to strangle steel production here in the UK and rather than working towards a high wage economy, we’ll actually be walking blindly towards a low wage economy.’ 

As the gas crisis escalated, Ofgem warned there will also be a ‘significant rise’ to the cap on energy bills – hitting millions of Britain’s poorest people – with soaring energy prices set to push average annual bills through the £2,000 barrier for the first time. 

Ofgem chief executive Jonathan Brearley, didn’t put a figure on it, but said there will be a ‘significant rise’ in the price cap set by the industry regulator which helps to control the cost of gas and electricity in the UK. 

He didn’t knock back claims that fixed and other deals could reach £2,000 in 2022.

‘We can’t predict everything, and the wholesale market, as we’ve seen, has gone up and down extremely quickly so we can’t predict fully what that will be,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. ‘But, looking at the costs that are in the system, we are expecting a significant rise in April.’

But Mr Brearley added that the current price cap will remain until April. ‘We have no plans to raise the price cap before April,’ he said.

In the face of the ongoing energy crisis, London-based money-saving expert Martin Lewis has urged customers to ‘do nothing’.

He said those who want cheaper energy deals shouldn’t shop around like normal – instead he insisted ‘inaction is now the best action’.

Speaking on his eponymous ITV show on Thursday, Martin said customers should pick deals that match their energy providers’ price cap – or wait until they are given one when their current deal ends.   

The finance expert explained: ‘Do nothing, do nothing, energy prices are rising, energy firms are falling. The cheapest fixes are £500 a year higher than they were just a month ago.

‘Shocking. People are panicking. Do nothing. Inaction is now the best action,’ he added. 

Explaining the reasons behind the surging prices, he said: ‘The wholesale gas price is the price firms pay, and in the UK a lot of our electricity is heated by gas so it hits the electricity price too, it was normally about 50p/therm, you’ll see it has exploded in the last few months – it’s now well over five times the normal amount and that’s hideous.’ 

The energy crisis has been blamed, in part, on a shortage of natural gas caused by Vladimir Putin allegedly ‘choking’ supplies to Europe to pressurise regulators into approving the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Yesterday Boris Johnson waded into the row, branding the link a threat to energy security and suggesting the decision to bypass Ukraine to bring supplies direct to Germany would damage the Ukrainian economy.

A No 10 spokesman said: ‘Although Nord Stream 2 will not directly impact the UK’s energy security, it could have serious implications for central and eastern European countries.

‘Some European countries are nearly wholly dependent on Russian gas, which raises serious concerns about energy security.’

In comments reported by The Times, the spokesman also warned about the damage to Ukraine, which currently hosts the largest pipeline network for Russian gas and benefits from large transit fees. 

He added: ‘Nord Stream 2 would divert supplies away from Ukraine, with significant consequences for its economy.’

The natural gas price is currently hovering at around £2.40 a therm – down from more than £4 yesterday – after traders were reassured by Putin hinting that Russia would consider increasing exports.  

He said: ‘So, our paper mill will be wanting to operate 24/7, 365 days a year, with the exception of planned stoppages for maintenance and so on. So the financial sustainability of that paper mill is dependent upon being able to maximise its uptime.

‘Every minute that the machinery isn’t working, every minute that paper isn’t being produced is a damage to the profitability of the sector and a damage to the future investment potential and opportunities going forward.’ 

The South East is still in the grip of a fuel crisis despite Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today claiming supply levels are ‘close to normal range’. Pictured: Queues for Esso in Ashford

The Petrol Retailers Association’s research showed that 12 per cent of filling stations have run out of fuel in the region, while 17 per cent have one grade of diesel or petrol

Under 75 per cent of petrol stations have both diesel and petrol in London (pictured) and south-east England, as opposed to 90 per cent outside those areas

It comes as Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News ‘we’re right at the tail end’ of the situation with fuel supply pressures

It comes as Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News ‘we’re right at the tail end’ of the situation with fuel supply pressures.

He said in ‘most parts of the country’ problems have ended, and that London and the South East are the only two areas ‘where we’re seeing any continued problems’.

He added that around 3,500 people have applied for provisional HGV licences in the past week.

The Government is also prepared to ask the military to drive HGV lorries until Christmas, after they have already stepped in to help due to recruitment issues heightened by Brexit and the Covid pandemic. 

Senior Government sources told The Telegraph that they are willing to ask for an extension of the Military Assistance to Civilian Authorities (MACA) order in a bid to prevent shortages of food and other essential items this Christmas.

Will the lights stay on this winter? National Grid warns of a greater risk of blackouts and says electricity supplies will be ‘tight’ this year after undersea cable fire 

A map showing the various electricity cables that bring in electricity to the UK from the rest of Europe. The IFA link is seen bottom right in green 

Britain faces ‘tight’ electricity supplies this winter after a fire disrupted a vital cable bringing energy from France – loading fresh pressure onto a system that is already being stretched to the limit by high demand and limited supply.  

The National Grid said the incident at a connector station in Kent last month had cut the amount of energy that can be imported via the 1FA undersea cable – which runs under the English Channel to Calais – by half. 

By October 23, 1GW of power should be restored following repairs, but the full capacity of 2GW will not be reached until more work due to last until March next year.  

European wholesale gas and power prices have rocketed this year due to lower-than-usual gas stocks this summer, reduced supply from Russia, the onset of colder temperatures and infrastructure outages.

High UK wholesale gas prices have helped to lift wholesale power prices as gas plants account for around 40% of electricity generation in Britain. 

The original MACA order is understood to last 30 days, but a Government source told the publication that it could be extended if problems persist past the beginning of November, when the order will run out.

Andrew Large, director-general at the Confederation of Paper Industries, said its members are being ‘affected very, very severely’ by cost increases, with toilet roll and packaging among the items that could be hit hardest.

He said: ‘They’re seeing their costs go up through the roof. It’s damaging their profitability and in some cases it’s causing them to manage their production rates so as not to expose themselves to the very, very highest costs.’

Meanwhile, baked beans have become the latest victims of soaring inflation – with the head of manufacturer Kraft Heinz yesterday revealing the cost of the breakfast staple will have to go up.

Miguel Patricio, CEO of Kraft Heinz, which makes a range of other products including Philadelphia spread and Capri Sun, said that inflation was widespread globally and costs were rising.

‘In previous years there was inflation in coffee because of a bad crop or a bad crop in beans – what is different now is that this inflation is across the board,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

‘So it’s impossible to navigate through this moment of inflation without increasing prices. It’s up to us, and to the industry and to other companies to try to minimise these price increases.’

One in ten British businesses put up their prices in the past month due to the rising costs, the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) latest business survey for September shows.

Meanwhile, nearly a third of companies have seen a higher-than-normal increase in running costs and many have been forced to pass this on to customers.

Companies in construction, services and manufacturing were the worst hit as 10 per cent said they needed to raise prices last month, up from 8% per cent in mid-August and 4 per cent early in 2021.

The data showed that, of these, nearly a quarter, 23 per cent, were retailers in consumer-facing sectors, and 25 per cent were in the manufacturing industry.

The stark data came as the soaring cost of electricity and gas hit industries such as steel, glass and chemicals, meaning consumers will soon be paying more for a huge number of products including cars, building materials, food packaging and even toilet roll.

Factories have moved to reduce their output to save on costs as the price of energy went through the roof with some demanding Government support to keep running.

It came as the Bank of England’s new chief economist, Huw Pill, used his first interview in the in the job to warn that Britain faces a ‘greater than expected’ rise in inflation over the coming months, which with further hammer households and businesses.

Mr Pill said he expects increasing costs of living ‘should subside as the pandemic recedes’, but with inflation already at a nine-year high of 3.2 per cent, he gave the chilling warning: ‘The magnitude and duration of the transient inflation spike is proving greater than expected.’

Britons and their businesses are being battered by a ‘perfect storm’ of inflation and supply chain problems with experts predicted inflation could still reach 5% by Christmas.

An earlier version of this story suggested that senior Tories had been seen ‘panic buying’. This has been amended, and we are happy to clarify that the column in the Financial Times on which it was based had in fact stated that ‘several top party figures have been spotted panic-buying explanations’. 

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