The government has agreed to temporarily scrap night-time delivery curfews so retailers can respond to stockpiling caused by coronavirus fears.
The new measures will allow retailers to increase the frequency of deliveries to their stores and move products more quickly from warehouses across the country to replenish shelves.
It comes after several major supermarkets introduced rationing on food and non-food items over the weekend, including Tesco, which introduced limits on products such as baked beans and pasta.
Normal rules prohibit overnight deliveries so vehicles do not disturb residents, but the government said this afternoon it would temporarily relax the enforcement of those restrictions to give greater flexibility.
Supermarket leaders welcomed the intervention, which they said would help reduce the length of temporary shortages. However, they called on further measures from ministers to ensure supply chains could continue to function as normal.
The government also said this afternoon that transport secretary Grant Shapps was ready to implement existing rules that allow for extensions on drivers’ hours to help respond to emergency situations.
These rules would help the industry respond to any shortage of delivery drivers, but would still require 45-minute breaks after four and a half hours of driving to make sure drivers were properly rested, it said.
The government would work closely with employers on any use of these rules to make sure the safety of drivers and other road users was protected, it added.
Environment secretary George Eustice, who spoke to retail leaders in a conference call to discuss action to tackle the crisis today, said: “We have listened to our leading supermarkets and representatives from across the industry, and we are taking action to support their preparations. By allowing night-time deliveries to our supermarkets and food retailers, we can free them up to move their stocks more quickly from their warehouses to their shelves.
“Our retailers have well-established contingency plans in place and are taking all the necessary steps to ensure consumers have the food and supplies they need. I will continue to work closely with them over the coming days and weeks on this.”
“We welcome all efforts by government to provide supermarkets with greater flexibility in the way they supply their stores,” said Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the BRC.