2021-10-05 22:02:15 Boris Johnson Urges Businesses to Help Resolve Britain’s Shortages

Boris Johnson Urges Businesses to Help Resolve Britain’s Shortages

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom — Prime Minister Boris Johnson dismissed suggestions that Britain was in crisis on Tuesday, saying that businesses needed to do more to end the country’s fuel and goods shortages by raising wages, improving working conditions, and training Britons to drive trucks and do other hard-to-fill jobs.

Mr. Johnson said on the eve of his keynote speech at the Conservative Party Conference that there was “no alternative” to the disruption that has closed gas stations, left supermarket shelves bare, and threatens to raise prices for ordinary Britons. He claimed that a crippling shortage of truckers was caused not by a lack of planning, but by an economy that was reviving like “a giant waking up.”

The main backdrop for the conference has been the disruptions to daily life caused by the gas shortages that have now concentrated in southern England, as well as empty shelves in some supermarket shelves. Both are a result of Brexit, which has made it more difficult to hire foreign workers and has exacerbated a truck driver shortage. To compensate for the shortage of truckers, troops were assigned to drive fuel tankers on Monday.

Energy and other prices are rising, raising concerns about inflation, even as a bonus given to many welfare recipients during the coronavirus pandemic is being phased out and a furlough system that helped workers sent home is being phased out.

Brexit has had an impact on the labor market in the United Kingdom, preventing employers from freely recruiting workers from the continent as they once could. Mr. Johnson and his supporters, on the other hand, argue that this will improve the lives of workers in the long run because wages will have to rise.

Last week, the government appeared to blame panic-buying consumers for causing long lines and fuel shortages. Mr. Johnson, on the other hand, has been forced to retreat by offering visas to foreign truckers and extending the time they can work in the UK. On Tuesday, he stated that only 127 visas had been issued thus far.

Mr. Johnson and his conservative allies have effectively doubled down on their policies, presenting shortages and supply disruptions as a result of a rapid post-pandemic economic recovery in a country where many workers are underpaid.

He has urged businesses to increase employee investment and pay higher wages, and there has been speculation this week that one of the measures Mr. Johnson will propose in his speech on Wednesday will be an increase in the minimum wage.

That message, along with his opposition to increased immigration, could appeal to working-class voters who defected from the opposition Labour Party in the heartlands in 2019, switching to the Conservatives and handing Mr. Johnson a landslide general election victory.

When asked if there was a crisis, Mr. Johnson replied, “No,” adding that supply chains were displaying “the stresses and strains you’d expect from a giant waking up.”

He pressed his case against business, claiming that Britain had for too long taken a “low-wage, low-cost approach where business does not invest in skills, capital, or facilities.”

He singled out the trucking industry, saying, “The fact is that they haven’t been putting money into truck stops, into conditions, into pay, so there is no supply of young people in this country who, frankly, are thinking about becoming truck drivers right now.”

Conservatives have been accused of being complacent and out of touch with the majority of the population.

On Sunday, the prime minister appeared to dismiss concerns that thousands of pigs might be culled and disposed of due to a labor shortage in the meatpacking industry. Mr. Johnson said in a classic allusion to mass animal sacrifice that the “great hecatomb of pigs” had yet to take place, infuriating farmers.

Even some right-wing media commentary has been less than complimentary.

“For all his hyperbolic railing against the unsustainable nature of Britain’s last-minute supply chains, the sad truth is that we are at the mercy of a just-in-time Prime Minister,” Judith Woods wrote in the Daily Telegraph, describing him as “a man of straw who seems only to make decisions when they are forced upon him by circumstance or catastrophe.”

The government also attempted to deflect criticism that Britain was experiencing a policing crisis, with Priti Patel, the home secretary, announcing an inquiry into the abduction and murder of Sarah Everard by a police officer — a crime that shook the nation.

The Home Office stated that this would not be a statutory inquiry with the legal authority to compel witnesses to testify, but that it could be converted to one if necessary. The announcement came just one day after the Metropolitan Police said it would commission an independent review of its culture and standards in the aftermath of disturbing revelations about Ms. Everard’s killer using his authority as an officer to commit the crime.

Despite the fact that Conservative Party activists were meeting in person for the first time in two years, cabinet minister announcements have been relatively sparse, prompting speculation that some are being saved for Mr. Johnson’s closing speech.

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Boris Johnson Urges Businesses to Help Resolve Britain’s Shortages