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UK warehouse capacity faces crunch as coronavirus scuppers retail shipping

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The UK is close to running out of warehouse capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic, a new survey by the UK Warehousing Association has revealed.

The trade association polled 100 third party logistics companies, with 90% of respondents saying that their warehouses were already full.

Respondents indicated that they had about 6% of their internal warehouse space available, 27% of external and 11% of pallet space available.

There were signs that coronavirus was impacting warehouse operators themselves and how they are working. Only 10% said they were continuing operations as normal, as 26% of respondents reported sickness-related absences and 23% reduced shifts. However, only 3% said they had seen a shortage in temporary labour.

Sixty-seven percent said they would put staff on a paid leave of absence with government support, known as furloughing. The majority (75%) would do so with less than 50% of their full-time staff.

Despite the scrutiny that has been placed on retailers over practices in their warehouses, only 32% of respondents had put social distancing into place while only 31% said they had put in adequate washing facilities.

UKWA said that the demand surge had come as non-essential goods remain in warehouses due to retail and manufacturing shutdowns, while imports continue to arrive.

UKWA CEO Peter Ward, said: “With outbound flows severely reduced or stopped altogether as stores and factories are closed, inbound flows have become a mounting problem.

“Inbound supply chains continue towards destination, arriving at ports, requiring receipt, handling, onward distribution and storage.”

“This weekly volume is likely to require storage of some 750,000 pallets each week until lockdown is eased and retail stores re-open. Although we expect numbers of fulfilled orders arriving in the UK to be dropping off by the end of May, over the coming month, the search for additional space could become desperate.”

The pandemic is forcing the logistics industry to quickly add capacity as normal distribution channels and warehouses become overloaded. Recent data from TotalJobs found that there were an average of 5,208 logistics roles advertised per week on the site in March. This is an 8% uplift compared to the average week in January and February (4,685 per week) and 6% up on the average week in March 2019 (4,925).

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