Delivery hours for supermarkets and other food retailers have been extended by the Government as the Coronavirus continues to spread.
Food retailers will be able to increase the frequency of deliveries to stores and move stocks more quickly from warehouses across the country to replenish their shelves, say ministers.
Leading supermarkets had told the environment secretary that a relaxation of curfews would help retailers respond to the increased consumer demand for some products, which have seen shelves cleared of toilet rolls, disinfectant and UHT milk, among other products.
Current rules mean that deliveries are prohibited overnight so that vehicles do not disturb residents.
The Government will temporarily relax the enforcement of restrictions to give greater flexibility.
Environment secretary George Eustice said: “We have listened to our leading supermarkets and representatives from across the industry, and we are taking action to support their preparations.
“By allowing night time deliveries to our supermarkets and food retailers we can free them up to move their stocks more quickly from their warehouses to their shelves.
“Our retailers have well-established contingency plans in place and are taking all the necessary steps to ensure consumers have the food and supplies they need. I will continue to work closely with them over the coming days and weeks on this.”
The environment secretary held a call with representatives from across the food supply chain yesterday (March 9) to discuss further ways to help with their preparations, and in particular to look at support for vulnerable groups who may be in isolation.
The Government says it is also looking closely at measures to ensure supply chains continue to function as normal.
The transport secretary, it says, stands ready to implement existing rules that allow for extensions on drivers’ hours to help respond to emergency situations, as needed.
These rules would help the industry respond to any shortage of delivery drivers but would still require 45-minute breaks after four and a half hours of driving to make sure drivers are properly rested.
The Government would work closely with employers on any use of these rules to make sure the safety of drivers and other road users is protected.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “We welcome all efforts by government to provide supermarkets with greater flexibility in the way they supply their stores.
“While there is plenty of stock available, the challenge for retailers has been to make sure all of it reaches shelves at the earliest opportunity.
“It is essential that government continues to engage on other ways to alleviate the challenges for retailers.”
The Freight Transport Association (FTA) welcomed the relaxation of delivery hours.
Natalie Chapman, head of urban policy at FTA, said: “The Government’s announcement that it will work with local authorities to extend the hours in which deliveries can be made is a practical and sensible approach to support retailers during this period of unprecedented demand for basic items.
"FTA has been urging government to enable restrictions to be relaxed on night-time deliveries for several years; we hope this temporary measure will be soon be considered for permanency.
"Re-timing deliveries to quieter periods has the potential to reduce road congestion while delivering a number of social benefits, such as improved air quality, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and increased road safety during the busiest periods of the day.
"FTA has worked with the Noise Abatement Society and Transport for London to develop measures to support the re-timing of deliveries to out of peak hours and the shoulders of the day and overnight whilst not disturbing residents.
"We hope the Government will learn lessons from this temporary measure and consider ways to support local authorities in permanently relaxing delivery restrictions to allow for more innovative, flexible solutions to meet the challenges that lie ahead."
The Government announcement around deliveries comes after Hermes pledged £1 million to support self-employed workers.
The company says that if drivers need to self-isolate as a result of Coronavirus they will help find someone to deliver on their behalf and guarantee that their rounds will be kept open for them for when they return.