Richard North, 05/07/2021  

Janet and John own a cafe in central Glasgow. They usually places their order for cheese, meat, milk and cakes with their supplier on Thursday to be delivered on Monday. Last month, however, their routine was derailed.

"There was nothing on the webpage, no delivery available", says 45-year-old Janet. "I kept hitting refresh during the day, and eventually something popped up. The calendar modified itself to August 15".

Janet and John were forced to get in touch with other wholesalers to help them plug the produce gap overnight. "It's been pretty difficult in addition to the chaos that we've just had [from being shut]", John says.

This is the Telegraph's offering on the driver shortage, courtesy of Laura Onita. All I've done in taken the name provided - David Fraser – and replaced it with "Janet and John", with slight adjustments to make my changes fit.

I really dislike this patronising style of journalism, where readers are treated as half-wits who can only deal with factual stories if they are pre-packaged in simplistic "Janet & John" story lines, presumably on the basis that the insertion of "human interest" detail will sugar the pill of having to read horrid facts.

But so poor is our attention to detail deemed to be that Laura Onita feels obliged to continue spoon-feeding us. The David Fraser figure, we are told, "is not alone", as if we couldn't work that out for ourselves. Would you believe that corner shops across the country have put up signs in windows to warn customers that they are running low on stock?

Apparently, we also need the perspicacious Laura to tell us that gaps on shelves "have also become more noticeable in supermarkets, with bottled water and fresh and dried fruit in short supply". Meanwhile, this cleaver lady tells us, "large food and drink manufacturers have been slow to dispatch top-ups".

Then, because – or so it seems - we can't possibly cope with even a few simple statements of fact, we have to be introduced to Shane Brennan, who is actually chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation (CCF). But, in our infantilised state, we clearly can't even cope with a complex term like "chief executive", so we are merely told that he is "the boss".

Thus introduced, Mr Brennan is employed to tell us that. "Thousands of deliveries are not being completed every week at the moment across the food supply chain", with the further graphic, if not quite literal detail that "Businesses are fighting fires".

Only now, after 200 words of this turgid, mind-sapping introduction, do we get to know the reason behind these disagreeable details, something we might have already guessed from the piece headline, which reads: "Shortage of lorry drivers raises spectre of empty shelves", with the sub-heading, "Chronic driver shortages are resulting in food not getting through to small businesses and supermarkets, while demand is rising".

But there we go – we've waited patiently for it, so here it is. Only lacking a roll of drums and a trumpet fanfare, Laura Onita proudly announces: "At the heart of the problem is a chronic shortage of lorry drivers, which threatens to upend other industries and lead to bare shelves this summer".

Well, I never!

Plenty more turgid details follow that, but nothing a readers of average intelligence wouldn't already have picked up from any number of stories on this issue, already published in a wide range of newspapers and journals.

Pride of place, though, must go to the quote from Steve Dresser, director at consultancy Grocery Insight. Though the good offices of Laura Onita, we learn from him that "You have to be trained and qualified to drive an HGV, you can't just take the keys and drive it". Thank God for the Telegraph. I can't think how we would have found that out without the lovely Laura's assistance.

The big problem with her piece though, is that it's a bit like a Chinese takeaway. It is so insubstantial that, no sooner have you finished her 1500 words of dribble, you're ready for another piece – one that, perhaps, doesn't treat you like a moron and actually provides some real meat.

Fortunately for the average reader, the article is behind a paywall, so only the headline and the first couple of paragraphs are generally available. Readers are thus spared from having to hunt through the piece to find any genuine signs of intelligent analysis in what is styled as a "business briefing".

As least, this time, we are spared the bleating of the CBI, and Lord Bilimoria's special pleading for more immigration to resolve the growing labour shortages. The same, however, can't be said of Mr Brennan who uses his Twitter account to remind us of his industry's call for more visas for foreign drivers, to get more drivers on the roads.

However, this chap could give you some insight as to what that wasn't going to work – pointing out that there are 70,000 licence-holders who could drive, but won't - with Pete recently adding detail on the woes of the transport industry.

And then there is my piece which adds chapter and verse on how the currently reported shortage is a long-standing problem, of which the industry was fully aware many years ago.

What would be useful to get from a newspaper, though – any newspaper - is a serious evaluation of the role of the industry in creating this mess in the first place and, in particular, the use of immigration.

To that effect, I've had my attention drawn to this, a House of Lords report from 2008 on the "Economic Impact of Immigration", stating what should be repeated loudly and often:
Immigration encouraged as a “quick fix” in response to perceived labour and skills shortages reduces employers’ incentives to consider and invest in alternatives. It will also reduce domestic workers’ incentives to acquire the training and skills necessary to do certain jobs. Consequently, immigration designed to address short term shortages may have the unintended consequence of creating the conditions that encourage shortages of local workers in the longer term.
There lies one of our essential problems. As we have seen with the coverage of the Batley and Spen by-election and many other subjects, the media is no longer capable of intelligent analysis – if it ever was.

But perhaps the greater problem is that, while the general public may be only too well aware of the shortcomings of the media, to few people are prepared to expend the effort to look elsewhere for better sources of information – particularly in the case of MPs and other decision-makers. In fact, MPs are probably the last significant group in this country who still rely on the legacy media for their information.

And nor is this an academic issue. The epidemic of misinformation and the dearth of intelligent or even well-founded analysis threatens the very foundations of democracy. Particularly, ill-informed people are in no position to challenge their leaders, who are then allowed by the media to perpetuate the cycle of ignorance.

And as long as journalists feel that their role in life is to tell us "Janet & John" bedside stories, I don't see any immediate signs of improvement.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

comments powered by Disqus

Log in

Sign THA

The Many, Not the Few