The government has given supermarkets the go-ahead to ramp up night-time deliveries and is looking at extending delivery drivers’ hours to ensure stores remain stocked during the coronavirus outbreak.

The emergency measures, announced today, will see delivery hours to supermarkets extended outside night-time curfew hours to help food retailers respond to increased demand for long-life food and hygiene supplies.

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Photo: RHA

The government said it is also looking at allowing extensions on drivers’ hours “to respond to any shortage of delivery drivers” that additional night-time deliveries might create.

However, the government warned that drivers would still be required to take 45-minute breaks after 4.5 hours of driving and employers would have to work closely with government bodies on any use of these rules to ensure road and driver safety.

Environment Secretary George Eustice 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.

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“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.

RHA policy director Duncan Buchanan said: “We have to prepare for there being an immediate an unmanageable shortage of drivers and so these measures are sensible and proportionate.

He added: “However any decision to extend drivers’ hours will need to be used sparingly and carefully as road and driver safety is imperative.”

Added Natalie Chapman, head of urban policy at the FTA: “It is a practical and sensible approach to support retailers during this period of unprecedented demand for basic items.

"The FTA has been urging government to enable restrictions to be relaxed on night-time deliveries for several years; we hope this temporary measure will be soon be considered for permanency.

"Retiming deliveries to quieter periods has the potential to reduce road congestion while delivering a number of social benefits, such as improved air quality, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and increased road safety during the busiest periods of the day.

"FTA has worked with the Noise Abatement Society and TfL to develop measures to support the retiming of deliveries to out of peak hours and the shoulders of the day and overnight whilst not disturbing residents.

"We hope the government will learn lessons from this temporary measure and consider ways to support local authorities in permanently relaxing delivery restrictions to allow for more innovative, flexible solutions to meet the challenges that lie ahead."

Union Unite called for employers to negotiate any changes to driver hours with the union.

Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “Drivers already report high levels of fatigue and exhaustion during their normal working time, which affects their physical and mental health as well as their family life and relationships.

“Lifting the regulations, without proper safeguards, will put more strain on them which could result in them being a danger to other road users and themselves.”