Concern over supplies and the rising cost of energy and food, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its third week, is prompting calls for government action to aid consumers and the grocery sector.
Global supplies of energy and commodities were already tight, pushing inflation to a 30-year high in the UK, before the conflict added further pressure to availability and supply chains.
As prices soar at petrol pumps, Retail NI is urging the UK government to immediately introduce a package of measures to reduce fuel duty and cancel the planned hike in National Insurance.
“Our members are experiencing out of control energy costs, which is impacting on the running of their businesses,” said Glyn Roberts, chief executive, Retail NI. “With the huge increases in petrol and diesel set to continue for the foreseeable future, we believe the UK government should immediately reduce fuel duty cost and cancel the planned increase on National Insurance.
“These actions would not only assist independent retailers, it will also help working families who are struggling to pay for petrol and diesel.
“The National Insurance hike is the wrong tax at the wrong time. It disproportionally hits small businesses and working people and should not go ahead in April.
“There is a perfect storm of problems facing our economy and the Government needs to listen to the business community and more importantly act.”
Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) is, meanwhile, calling for government and in particular the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), to put contingency plans in place and establish a Northern Ireland agriculture task force to address the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on global supplies.
Victor Chestnutt, president, UFU, said: “The world has been watching in horror as Russia’s inhumane attack on Ukraine continues. The impact of which is now rippling worldwide with global supply chains already in a highly vulnerable state. Many countries around the world, including NI, are reliant on Ukraine’s agricultural produce as well as Russia’s food and gas supplies.
“Input costs have jumped to eyewatering levels over the last number of days and are continuing to skyrocket. In particular, the price of energy and fertiliser. Farmers are in a horrendous position as they’re already trying to manage severe financial pressures, and this is now creating an increasingly difficult situation already.
“Input costs for farmers have risen to such unprecedented levels that the main worry now for consumers is not price, but availability. A rise in grain prices or a significant drop in production is certain to have huge knock-on effects for food consumers.
“Unavoidable impacts on distribution and supply will surely stretch availability to breaking point, let alone affordability. Food, fuel and fertiliser are inseparably linked and if some didn’t realise that before, they will now in the worst possible way.
“We need government and DAERA to act now to address this urgent situation. They need to put contingency plans in place and set up a task force for NI agriculture, and it’s critical that any plan is accompanied by government action to support our farmers.
“The government needs to focus their efforts on rocketing costs and availability of outputs as these are the biggest issues facing our members right now. Government also needs to look at some of their own regulations.
“To move forward and address the situation, it would be very unwise of government to make any decisions prior to full engagement with farmers’ representatives. It’s really important that we work together and I’ve no doubt that farmers across the country, as they’ve always done at times of challenge in the past, will step up in responding to that.”