The BRC and the FDF have slammed the lack of planning for the pandemic, which in March 2020 resulted in major shortages on shelves due to panic-buying

Food and drink bosses are preparing to give damning evidence of the government’s “shambolic” handling of the response to the Covid crisis, The Grocer has learnt.

It comes as former High Court judge Baroness Hallett last week began a sweeping inquiry into the pandemic to see what lessons could be learnt.

The first stage of Hallett’s inquiry will focus on how well prepared the government was for the crisis. Bodies such as the BRC and the FDF have slammed the lack of planning for the pandemic, which in March 2020 resulted in major shortages on shelves due to panic-buying.

Former health secretary Matt Hancock was accused of false claims that minsters had drawn up a contingency plan with supermarkets to safeguard food supplies.

However, it is believed the evidence being prepared will also raise issues such as the long delays in advice over personal protective equipment, failure of the rollout of mass testing and confusion over the designation of key workers.

The inquiry is also expected to look at the impact of the series of lockdowns on the hospitality sector, as well as its effect on food waste in the wholesale sector and food poverty.


The impact of lockdowns on the hospitality sector will also be investigated

“There are some very important questions that need to be answered with the issue of food security and the threat that this posed clearly right at the heart of the inquiry,” said one source.

“The government’s handling of the crisis was often shambolic.

“Whilst in the end the food supply chain kept going, it was almost by luck rather than judgement that the show was kept on the road.”

Ignoring warnings

Food & Drink Sector Council co-chair Ian Wright said: “We were told at the start of the crisis that there was a contingency plan. Well, if there was it wasn’t a very good one.

“This was despite evidence from food companies in Asia having been clear for months. There is a massive issue when it comes to preparedness and how we make sure that we are better prepared when something like this happens again.”

An earlier inquiry by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee accused ministers of ignoring warnings from the experience of Covid in other countries.

It said the government was “unprepared” for the possibility of food shortages in the supermarkets and the disastrous impact on hospitality businesses. The impact on food supplies would have been far worse had the industry not stepped up to fill the vacuum left by government inaction, it added