Fears Blackouts Could Lead To Empty Supermarket Shelves Raised By Government
Major power outages could affect food supplies in the UK (Alamy)
Exclusive: The government has asked figures in the food and drink industry for their views on how major power outages could affect food supplies in the UK, as concern grows over how the energy crisis could cause widespread disruption in the coming months.
In recent days the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has contacted industry groups asking to be briefed on how a temporary loss of power could impact food reaching supermarket shelves across the country, PoliticsHome understands.
The department has told industry figures that it considers a blackout to be a theoretical possibility, and has asked them to advise on what food supply chains would be most vulnerable in that scenario.
A government spokesperson told PoliticsHome: “This is not something we expect to happen.
"The UK has a highly resilient food supply chain, as demonstrated throughout the Covid-19 response, and we engage extensively with stakeholders across the whole food supply chain to ensure we are ready for all eventualities, even the ones we don’t expect to happen.
“The UK’s secure and diverse energy supplies will ensure households, businesses and industry can be confident they can get the electricity and gas they need.”
The government is believed to be braced for possible disruption to energy supplies this winter, as well as soaring prices that could affect both households and industry.
Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that the government is preparing for several days of organised blackouts over the winter under its latest reasonable worst-case scenario, caused by a combination of cold weather and gas shortages.
According to the report, there are four days in January when the government may have to activate emergency measures to conserve gas supplies, due to a fall in imports from Norway and France, which could affect both households and energy-intensive industries.
Kit Malthouse, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, revealed on Monday night that hospitals are bracing for potential fuel shortages, and that NHS bosses had been urged to ensure that their “generators are properly serviced” and “diesel tanks are full”.
He told Talk TV: "We are making plans for all sorts of contingencies across public services, particularly in critical areas like health.
“For example, one of the plans we talk about is coincidence of events, but we need to make sure that all those hospitals that need access to power have their standby generators properly serviced, they’ve got diesel tanks full with diesel that might be required.
“The work they need to do to make sure that they’re resilient from a power and energy point of view has been done before we get to say November when the winter starts."
The department's request for an industry briefing is also the latest indication of the level of disruption that awaits Boris Johnson's successor when they enter 10 Downing Street on 5 September.
Both Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and ex-Chancellor Rishi Sunak are coming under increasing pressure to explain how they would protect households from soaring energy bills, with their current proposals widely seen as being insufficient.
The pressures facing households came into even sharper focus on Tuesday morning when energy specialists Cornwall Insight predicted that the energy cap would increase to £3,582.02 in October, before rising again to £4,266.48 in early 2023.
Senior Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, who chairs the liaison committee, today wrote for The House that the next Prime Minister would have to introduce a fresh package of support for low-income households or "they will simply run out of cash".
He said that failure by Truss or Sunak to provide significant financial support on top of what the government has already made available would result in "dire economic and electoral consequences".
The cost-of-living crisis is also being exacerbated by widespread inflation, which the Bank of England recently predicted would hit 13 per cent in 2022. The Bank also expects the UK to enter a 15-month recession.
PoliticsHome reported last week that government figures believe food prices could increase by as much as 20 per cent this year, though it is highly-unpredictable due to a number of variables being involved.
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