• Thursday, October 06, 2022


Asian traders seek supply chain support as import costs rise

ECONOMIC BURDEN: Shop owners say delays in deliveries have hit packages received during the festival season. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

By: Nadeem Badshah

‘Businesses in wholesale and retail sectors more vulnerable to crisis’

ASIAN entrepreneurs hit hard by the UK’s supply chain crisis have appealed for more help from the government.

Firms selling clothes and food items from south Asia have revealed the problems they have had with deliveries as well as with increased import costs. Businessowners have called for ministers to provide more support and launch further plans to tackle the HGV driver shortage.

Saran Kohli, a menswear designer who runs a fashion brand named after him, told Eastern Eye, “Since Brexit has come [into] play, the logistic charges have not just affected Europe and the UK, but the entire supply chain with added costs.

“Since Covid, there has been more inflation. Due to limited and reduced airfreight, packages are taking longer to reach or are stuck at customs for further paperwork. Overall, the cost has jumped 30 per cent, which inevitably the customer bears.

“The government needs to encourage more dialogue and a better framework, grants for new start-ups and entrepreneurs who want to invest in crafts and textiles from south Asia, which encourages employment and trade on both shores.”

In October, the government introduced temporary visas for 5,000 lorry drivers, but there have been calls from industry leaders to extend the scheme further. For HGV food drivers, people must apply under the temporary visa scheme by December 1. All temporary visas for HGV food drivers will expire on February 28, 2022.

Professor Sunitha Narendran, dean of the Faculty of Business and Law at The University of Roehampton in London, said the high concentration of Asian owned businesses in the wholesale and retail sectors makes them more vulnerable to the supply chain crisis.

She told Eastern Eye: “Firms are rapidly having to review all areas of their commercial operations – from contract lifecycles and purchasing processes – to analysing costs, service implications and optimising outsourcing.

“Reports from the Office for National Statistics and Federation of Small Businesses shows that British Asian enterprise makes a significant contribution to the UK economy and that ethnic minority heritage business owners are growth-focused, innovative, resilient and adaptable – all critical characteristics for the UK’s post-pandemic survival.

“Supply chain support provided to these firms by the government is now a critical priority. Access to business support, finance and advice will help reinforce the inherent resilience and adaptability of British Asian entrepreneurs so that these businesses can continue to thrive and contribute as they do to the UK’s economy recovery.”

House of Raja in Bolton, Lancashire, sells items including saris, candles and sweets. In preparation for Diwali in November it received 900 packets of halwa (a sweet) compared to around 7,000 it normally gets – due to delays in deliveries. Sital Raja-Arjan, who runs the store, said she gets one delivery from India per week currently compared to four prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

“When you have done the same process for 30 years and suddenly that process is taken away… we never had a plan B, because we never knew we’d get Covid,” she said.

Atul Bhakta, CEO of logistics firm One World Express, said Brexit and the pandemic have been the main factors that have led to supply chain problems.

He said: “The government can no longer afford to pass the buck onto businesses and supply chain managers.

“They must be active in tackling this issue. Laying out a clear and transparent plan to address the HGV shortage would be a strong start, but they must also work closely with businesses to ensure they know exactly what is needed to support them – be it financial help, training, or facilitating access to a working visa.”

Bhakta added: “Without HGV drivers, it will be practically impossible for businesses to receive essential materials and operate anywhere near full capacity.

“Worse still, the unavailability of materials and products has already placed a financial burden on businesses, as the pace of supply does not meet the current scope of demand and it is only a matter of time before small businesses and entrepreneurs can no longer afford to absorb the additional cost.

“Customers will likely face price increases soon enough, which could in turn deter consumer confidence and spending. “These circumstances are unsustainable within any context, but in the run-up to Christmas, where a successful season can make or break a small business, it could be catastrophic.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We are providing short-term additional support and capacity to ensure the resilience of supply chains by increasing the supply of HGV drivers, streamlining the testing process, and improving the working conditions.

“The long-term answer to the supply chain issues we’re currently experiencing must be developing a high-skill, highwage economy here in the UK.”

Eastern Eye

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