What is the driver shortage problem? 

A man standing in front of a building with grass in front of it. He is wearing a navy suit, blue shirt and red tie.

Tim Ridyard, partner at Ashtons Legal - Credit: Dave Richardson

Partner Tim Ridyard from Ashtons Legal explains. 

The economy is now experiencing significant issues in the supply chain, leading to empty shelves in supermarkets or lack of deliveries to construction sites or manufacturers. 

An actual shortage of drivers is at the least a major part of the problem for many businesses. For years there has been an underlying HGV driver shortage. Today, however, many businesses simply cannot actually operate some lorries because of insufficient drivers. 

Estimates as to the actual number of additional HGV drivers that are required vary but a shortage of around 90,000 upwards is mooted, with a suggested 25,000 drop in EU drivers. 

Some businesses are addressing this by offering incentives such as ‘golden hello’ payments to drivers or paying for driver training. Hourly pay is rising significantly to attract and keep drivers. The Government is discussing making it easier to obtain a full HGV licence, prompting safety concerns. 

There are various reasons for this critical situation. Long, medium and short-term solutions are needed. The issue started long before Covid-19 though that, Brexit and the suspension of HGV driver tests has contributed to the ‘perfect storm’, namely: 

  • Time and cost to train/retain HGV drivers; issues with apprenticeships 

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  • Ageing driver profile: drivers are older; few are younger drivers; few younger drivers enter the profession; the workforce is predominantly (older) male with female drivers a maximum of 1-2% of drivers in the UK/Europe 

  • Unattractive working conditions/pay/hours 

  • Covid-19: driving tests suspended, though being resolved; EU drivers disinclined to come to the UK due to this 

  • Brexit: dramatic reduction in EU drivers (often from Eastern Europe) not returning to the UK or not seeking work here since 2016 (better pay/conditions elsewhere, perceived Brexit hostile environment, immigration rules); the percentage of non-UK drivers in businesses varies from business to business but were on average 8-10% of workforce and far higher in some companies; (in linked warehousing/distribution the figure is much higher) 

  • Increasing difficulty in employing non-UK drivers (whether EU nationals or non-EU) due to immigration rules: HGV drivers are not regarded as a skilled sector or commercial driving a shortage sector. (Our Employment & Immigration team can help to support your business work through these issues and new rules) 

  • IR35 tax changes affecting drivers employed by their own driver-company 

Ashtons’ Road Transport and Regulatory team helps a large number of directors, partners and sole traders in businesses that use passenger or large goods vehicles, including agricultural vehicles. These people probably hold an Operator’s licence and hence are regulated by the Office of the Traffic Commissioner. These licences are at risk if not properly managed. The business may be at risk of investigation and prosecution from other enforcement agencies that regulate not only transport, but health and safety, the environment and other business-related matters. For more information on this, or any other transport or regulatory issue, contact Tim Ridyard on 01284 732111 or email tim.ridyard@ashtonslegal.co.uk 

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