Birchall Foodservice HGV

Birchall Foodservice “in the dark” about self-isolation exemption

Birchall Foodservice’s Krissy Freemont says the wholesaler is still “completely in the dark” about if they are exempt from self-isolation rules.

The Burnley-based business’s HR Manager made the claim to Radio Radio 4’s Today programme on 27 July, after failing to receive government confirmation of the reprieve.

Food distributors are one of several industries to have been allowed to adapt from compulsory self-isolation to daily Covid-19 testing to deal with staff shortages.

Yet Freemont spoke about continuing uncertainty rather than the clarification they were expecting.

“We’re completely in the dark and there’s still a total lack of detail,” Freemont told Radio 4.

“We half know we’re going to be on the list, but then yesterday we got told that the government had directly contacted wholesalers and service providers that are on the list and we haven’t been contacted.

“So we got given an email to email out to, asking if we were on the list and could they clarify. Then I got an automated response saying ‘we’re receiving a high volume of emails, we’ll get back to you’ so we’re as much in the dark as we were last week.”

That leaves Birchall Foodservice – among several others in the same situation – bravely battling on to ensure deliveries make it to their customers.

Among them include drop offs needed to feed vulnerable people, such as those in hospitals, care homes or children using the holiday hunger scheme.

Hospitality is also impacted and Freemont painted a chaotic picture of what was happening among their customer base.

“The hospitality industry, as we know, has been hit the hardest by all the lockdowns,” Freemont added.

“Our customers have stuck by us throughout the pandemic and come back to us when they are able to reopen, and we’re at risk where they’re struggling now. We can’t fail our customers.

“There are so many of our hospitality customers that are having to close because people are having to isolate. They’re not clear on the rules, people aren’t certain.”

To help fight ongoing staff shortages – which are only heightened further by the HGV driver crisis – the Country Range Group member has recently bought a fleet of new vehicles, some that can be driven by people with additional driving qualifications.

And it’s meant it’s all hands to the pump to get those deliveries out to customers.

“We have anybody and everybody who can do, working in the departments that are struggling,” said Freemont.

“I work in HR and I’ve been out on a van delivering, our directors have been out delivering. We will not fail our customers, no matter what happens, we will get the deliveries out.

“Our MD had to buy six vans so a regular car driver can drive to allow us to do this – we’re temperature controlled as well, so he bought six vans which we got quickly, so the likes of our management team and directors can go out with their customers. We’ll do whatever we have to do.”

BBC Birchall Foodservice coronavirus covid-19 Foodservice hospitality Krissy Freemont pingdemic wholesaler