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Business / Local shops at the receiving end of supply chain problems

LOCAL shops in island areas across the UK are being starved of essential supplies, a Lerwick-based wholesaler has said.

Hughson Brothers managing director Carl Cross said the situation has been getting worse every week since the coronavirus crisis struck about a month ago.

With “most of the supplies going to the big national supermarkets” Cross has seen more and more product lines being affected by the shortage.

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Paracetamol, pasta, rice, flour, tinned ham, Heinz tomato and vegetable soup, UHT milk, hand sanitisers and other sanitary products are particularly affected.

He added that some local shops now had to buy in catering sized bags of pasta, for example, and to repack them to manageable retail packs.

And while he has seen hundreds of cases of toilet paper flying off the shelves at the company’s Gremista-based warehouse at the start of the crisis, the urge to stock up on this particular product appears to have slowed down.

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Cross said his team, which like so many others has been reduced in size due to self-isolation, was working flat out to find new ways of getting essential goods from existing but also from new suppliers.

He said the strategy of foremost supplying the large supermarkets while depleting supplies to the smaller shops proved to be counter productive as people had no choice but to flock to the large retailers for their shopping where they could also easily pick up the virus.

Cross added: “I think all of the local shops have been fantastic in quickly adapting to the conditions and start delivering to homes the same day or the next when Tesco can’t even do it for at least a month or more if you order online.”

He said the supply chain issues had nothing to do with the reduced lifeline ferry timetable but with the way large food companies have changed their strategy to cope with the crisis.

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His case, and that of other island wholesalers, was picked up by local politicians in Orkney and Shetland who highlighted the issue with government ministers earlier this week.

Rural affair secretary Fergus Ewing has agreed to raise the issue in government discussions with national suppliers and supermarkets.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael and Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart also urged ministers to apply pressure on suppliers to improve supply chains as well as do more to allow local wholesalers access to support under the various government schemes.

Carmichael said: “I am glad that we were able to talk directly to ministers about these supply concerns. Wholesalers play a vital role in keeping our independent shops and care homes running.

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart. Photo: Shetland News

“Rules made in London and Edinburgh do not always take account of that. Local shops on Fair Isle or on Westray need consistent and reliable supply lines just as much as mainland towns.”

Wishart added: “The engagement with ministers about the food supply chain was very helpful. It’s also important that the government look again at the business support schemes in place.

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“We are hearing every day about businesses that risk going under because of the gaps in support. The help that is there is welcome, but eligibility criteria must be reconsidered to ensure that businesses in Shetland can get the help they need.

“I will be following up again with ministers next week to highlight issues isles businesses are facing and I would encourage anyone who feels like they are missing out to get in touch.”

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