Monday, December 20

Britain's Snowmageddon: No dress rehearsal for the unexpected (REVISED)

UPDATE December 22, 2010 - 3:50 AM ET
I pulled the report Chances of Empty Shelves for Last-Minute Shoppers by Daniel Goode at Financial Feed when I discovered he'd quoted extensively from a Guardian report without crediting the source. I've replaced Goode's report with the Guardian one.

Memo to Cameron's government: Assume there is not going to be a letup in the freezing weather and the snow and ice over the next week. So worry less about humiliation on the world stage and about Dubai stealing Heathrow's air passenger traffic, and worry more about what you're going to face, if riots break out over food shortages.

Readers outside the U.K. need to realize that supply shortages there didn't start a couple days ago; the bad weather all this month in northern Europe is having a snowballing effect, if you'll pardon the expression, on disruptions in the supply chain. With more snow and sub-freezing weather in the forecast there's going to be a tipping point where serious shortages of critical supplies emerge for the U.K.

So it's past time for Cameron's government to call up the military and ask every country in Europe with good snow moving equipment to airlift in as many snowplows AND FOOD CONTAINERS as they can. And ask Russia for help. Ask everyone for help.

Below are quotes from a report from the (U.K.) Guardian that confronts the reality of what's happening now in the U.K. regarding shortages. I repeat, "now." Not two days from now.

For readers who don't know what Tesco sells -- it's a global grocery and general merchandising retailer headquartered in the U.K. It's the fourth largest retailer in the world. (Emphasis in the report mine):
Weather chaos: last-minute shoppers may face empty shelves
by Tom Bawden
Guardian, U.K.
Sunday 19 December 2010 18.58 GMT

Fears mount over deliveries as snow closes stores and shoppers shun out-of-town malls in favour of high street

Fears are mounting that Britain's shoppers could find themselves staring at empty shelves if the treacherous weather continues in the run-up to Christmas.

As blocked roads, freezing temperatures and snow hit what is traditionally the busiest shopping weekend of the year, many customers stayed away – especially from shops in less accessible out-of-town centres – and deliveries of stock to the retailers ran into difficulties.
Apart from the difficulty of getting customers to out-of-town shopping centres, many of which can only be accessed by roads, there is also is an increasing danger that shops may no longer have a full range of stock.

Although there have been no reported cases of shops running out of anything yet, retail analysts said such a scenario was a very real possibility.

Howard Archer, chief UK economist at IHS Global Insight, said: "If this weather persists it is going to be very disruptive to deliveries to supermarkets. Supply chains have been massively hit by the snow and ice this month, with many products being stuck at container ports for an extended period.

"Deliveries are going to be hit by this weekend's weather and a lot is going to depend on the weather in the coming week, which isn't looking good at the moment," he said.

Richard Perks, the director of retail research at the Verdict consultancy, pointed out that Britain's retail distribution system is generally very efficient, but he said that "fresh food stores could suffer" from the weather conditions.

Tesco and Marks & Spencer insisted there were no problems with the delivery of stock to their stores and said they did not anticipate running out of any products in the run-up to Christmas.

John Lewis's retail director, Andrew Murphy, conceded that there had been delays in some areas to deliveries that had been due by Saturday night, but he was confident those supplies would have reached their destination by last night or this morning.

"Obviously the deliveries of some items will be compromised in some areas, but in terms of overall stock levels I'm confident we will be back up to where we would have been by tomorrow morning," he said.

He added, though, that if the retailer was presented with extreme weather conditions in the next few days he could not rule out stock shortages in some areas.
Got all that? Now go back and read the article on Britian's food security problems that I linked to earlier today and which is titled, The high cost we pay for cheap food.

And if you're reading this outside the U.K. and chortling at the British in another jam -- uh, how's your country's food security situation in an emergency?

The message sent to the human race this year by one natural calamity after another has been "Wake up, fools."

Cameron and Clegg need to recall that the presidencies of Bush and Obama never recovered from slow-footed responses to the Katrina hurricane and the Gulf oil spill crisis. They'd better ask themselves, 'What would Winston Churchill do?' in response to the looming food shortages in Britain, then do it.

There is no dress rehearsal for the unexpected. It's crunch time for Cameron's government: time to pull out all the stops in response to the weather crisis.

And forget about setting off a panic by calling up the military to make food deliveries. The people outside government aren't stupid; they know there's a mega-crisis building. Political opportunists and wet blankets will criticize the government if with hindsight it seems it overreacted by calling up the military. But every sensible person in the U.K. will be greatly relieved to see that the government was thinking ahead by a few days and doing everything within its power to avert a serious shortage of critical supplies.

There's got to be a way that food containers backed up outside the country can be brought in via military transport and delivered to areas that are facing shortages within the next 48 hours. Find the way and find it now.


Anonymous said...

The older generation that made it through the war will understand, but the rest of them will not. I recall Betty Davis saying, "it's going to be a bumpy ride." I think that is putting it mildly.

Pundita said...

McNorman - Well, many of the older generation -- the ones who remember food rationing during WW2 -- have passed. My big concern at this moment is the prospect of a replay of the Labor government's reaction to the swine flu outbreak in London:

At first the government downplayed the crisis, then went the other way and issued wildly dire predictions, which set off a real panic.

Cameron's government really only has hours to get ahead of the looming food and fuel shortage situation. They better make the most of the time.