The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) have requested an urgent inquiry into the ongoing disruption at UK ports affecting the shipping market.

The two organisations have written a joint letter addressed to Lilian Greenwood MP, chair of the commons transport select committee and Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, chair of the commons international trade committee, to highlight the damage delays have had to food manufacturers and retailers across the country.

It points to the impact that disruption is having on shipping-related costs, noting: “…container spot rates have jumped considerably – in one instance, by 170% from this time last year. Others have noted week-on-week cost rises of 25%. In addition, congestion charges are being levied by carriers for imports into Felixstowe and Southampton.”

The letter also claims that food manufacturers have been badly affected by the delays: “Food manufacturers now face additional cost to source key inputs elsewhere, whilst also losing sales due to missed retail promotions in the run up to a key seasonal period – one company has lost over £1 million in sales due to the delays.”

“These issues must be addressed urgently; an inquiry would provide the scrutiny needed to help get our ports flowing freely again.”

The BRC previously wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport on 20th November to call for action, causing the Government to temporarily relax the enforcement of EU drivers’ hours rules until 31st December to help delivery of essential items and reduce the backlog in some ports.

The letter requests the transport select committee holds a joint inquiry with the commons international trade committee on port disruption and functioning of the shipping market.

The BRC and FDF believe that such an inquiry would give affected businesses the opportunity to set out how the disruption has impacted their operations and could help support planning and troubleshooting of this crucial issue.

Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “The lead up to Christmas is the most important time of year for retailers; ordinarily accounting for up to a fifth of the entire year’s sales and generating a large part of annual revenues. After a tremendously challenging 2020, many firms’ cashflows are under severe pressure, and so businesses are in no position to absorb these additional shipping costs.

“As a result, consumers will pay the final price. Christmas orders could be delayed, and retailers might be left with no option but to increase product prices. These issues must be addressed urgently; an inquiry would provide the scrutiny needed to help get our ports flowing freely again.”

Tim Rycroft, chief operating officer of FDF, said: “Food and drink manufacturers are extremely concerned about the delays we are witnessing at the ports. Our members are incurring costs totalling tens of thousands of pounds, and for some hundreds of thousands. In some cases, it is directly impacting on the ability of businesses to build up stockpiles of products and ingredients ahead of the end of the transition period.”

Photograph: FDF chief operating officer, Tim Rycroft.