Government paying £1m a DAY to store 10,000 containers full of PPE

Government is paying £1million a DAY to store 10,000 shipping containers full of PPE at Felixstowe port despite warnings NHS are still desperately short of masks, gloves and aprons

  • Government stock of PPE sit in 10,000 shipping containers in high-rate storage
  • Stores are thought to have racked up fees of up to £1million a day during crisis 
  • According to its own figures government amassed stockpile of 32billion items
  • Despite this Unite Union for Health workers says many are going without PPE 

Government stores of nearly 10,000 containers of PPE have been racking up fees of around £1million a day as they sit in high-rate storage on the quay at Felixstowe port.  

Around 11,000 containers full of PPE were being kept in the Suffolk port yard last week attracting sky-high fees, despite a continued lack of protection equipment available for NHS workers, reports The Telegraph. 

The fees are designed to stop importers using the port yard for long term storage, but despite this millions of aprons, masks and gloves destined for the NHS have been sat in the port since August.

According to a pricing document seen by The Telegraph the port, owned by Hutchison UK, charges £47.38 a day per container that has been there longer than two weeks – most containers spend approximately 4.5 days in the port.

Crates are stacked at Felixtowe Port on November 16, in Felixstowe, Suffolk

Approximately 11,000 government shipping containers are believed to have been in the quay last week, equating to around £520,000 of fees a day to be stumped up by the tax payer, the publication reports.

This could be considerably higher if late return fees of rental shipping containers, around £75 a day, are taken into account – by this calculation the government could have been paying over £1.3million a day in fees at the height of the backlog.

An effort has been made to move containers to another site since last week, with around 9,000 believed to have been at Felixstowe on Saturday, The Telegraph reports. 

There are big questions over the Government’s apparently panic-stricken approach to procurement

Eleanor Hadland, an independent port sector advisor at Drewry, said the fees were a deterrent to stop people leaving their shipments in the yard.

She told The Telegraph: ‘If you leave your container in the main port yard, it gradually gets more and more expensive to store it there.’ 

So inefficient has the Government been in purchasing PPE that, according to its own figures, it has amassed a stockpile of 32billion items, purchased at a cost of £6.75billion – and rising.

The stockpile equates to more than seven times as much as has been distributed to the NHS and care homes in England since the start of pandemic. 

According to Jolyon Maugham QC, of the Good Law Project, which tries to enforce accountability through the courts, much of this PPE stockpile will never be deployed, because it will pass its use-by dates.  

An investigation by The Daily Mail last month found that The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) admits that even if the current exceptional demand continues until the start of March 2021, there would still be 30billion items of the stockpile left over.

Containers are seen at the Port of Felixstowe, in Felixstowe, Britain, November 17, 2020

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: ‘The long-running problems with the delivery of personal protective equipment are a national scandal that have shocked the public – and we are now calling for the government’s PPE ‘czar’ Lord Deighton to urgently explain why there are continuing logjams in the supply chain.’ 

He added: ‘Our members on the NHS and social care frontline, such as speech and language therapists, paramedics and health visitors, are still reporting difficulties getting the necessary PPE nine months after the first lockdown. 

‘All this is happening against a background of an estimated more than 600 NHS and social care workers dying from causes linked to Covid-19 – this PPE crisis needs to be resolved urgently out of respect to their memory.’ 

Containers are seen aboard the the CSCL Mercury at the Port of Felixstowe, Suffolk, Britain, November 17, 2020

The news comes as Felixstowe, which is a vital hub for small businesses across Britain, was named one of the worst-performing ports in Europe and Asia – with British businesses facing spiralling costs of thousands of pounds and delays to their shipments as global problems continue to affect Britain’s biggest container port.

Container ships take around 32 hours to be loaded or unloaded at the docks, versus an average of 24 hours at rival ports, according to analysis from IHS Markit.

‘The slow turnaround on the port massively affects the throughput of cargo into our warehouse and at some points this year we have been working over a week behind’, the managing director of the Felixstowe-based distributor told This is Money last week.

Felixstowe lags far behind fellow UK ports at Southampton and London, although they too are being hit with surcharges as the global shipping trade comes under severe strain due to the coronavirus and a shortage of containers and ships. 

James Hardy, director of operations at Essex-headquartered Mannson Freight Services, told This is Money the global shipping trade had ‘collapsed’ in the face of the pandemic, but demand was now at ‘150 per cent of capacity’ due to a scramble to import goods and a shortage of containers. 

The Department for Transport, Public Health England and Hutchison UK have been contacted for comment.    

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