How to solve the crisis over the lack of HGV drivers
- Credit: ARCHANT
Across the country, everything stacked on shop shelves, hung in wardrobes and chilling in fridges has been on the back of a lorry at some point.
But in recent weeks, the “pingdemic” meant that some things were in danger of not reaching consumers due to a lack of lorry drivers.
Bosses at the Road Haulage Association (RHA) estimated the industry was lacking 100,000 drivers.
And one boss said the shortage had been a problem throughout all of his 40-year career in the haulage industry.
Last week Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy at the RHA, said: “When you’re that short on staff to begin with, and you have the ‘pingdemic’ on top of that, you’ve got a recipe for chaos, and chaos is what we’re now seeing unfolding in front of our eyes.”
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Tom Cornwell, East of England area manager for the Road Haulage Association (RHA), said the driver shortage was of the government’s own making.
“We’ve lobbied for some time now on the driver shortage and we’ve made them aware of the problems it is causing and the problems it will cause in the future,” he said.
“I think sometimes we feel as though we’re not being listened to.”
Rob Hollyman, director of Youngs Transportation & Logistics a haulier with bases in Essex and Suffolk, said from a fleet of 160 vehicles the shortage meant everyday he has 10 trucks stood empty and 10 staffed by agency drivers.
For every day his truck stood empty or had an agency driver in it he would lose a week’s profit from that vehicle, he explained.
“There’s always been a shortage of drivers,” he said. “But that shortage has been plugged by overseas drivers and maybe the odd agency driver.
“But it was the odd one and now some days we’re looking at 10-12 agency drivers.”
Documents seen by this newspaper reveal the industry’s attempt to help government fix the current crisis, but nearly two months on some of the key policies have not been put into place.
Elizabeth de Jong, director of policy at Logistics UK, wrote to a senior civil servant at the Department for Transport outlining what the trade association thought should be done to the driver shortage.
She wrote: “Although there has been a known shortage of drivers for some years, the extent of this issue has grown significantly in the last year as a third of EU HGV and van drivers have returned to the EU following EU Exit and the pandemic.”
Among the recommendations from the industry body are: the government participating in a “Year of Logistics” promotion aimed at improving the image of the industry, altering government schemes such as the Lifetime Skills Guarantee to include occupations such as large goods vehicle (LGV) drivers, and making the “delivery of safe, secure HGV parking spaces a DfT priority”.
Logistics UK also called on the Department for Transport to lobby other government departments to “ensure that logistics needs are understood and acted on” – including on matters such as immigration reform.
The trade association says current immigration policy is “a barrier to recruitment of qualified overseas HGV drivers because the points-based immigration system does not allow any Level 2 [LGV driver] roles to get work visas.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said the organisation was working alongside the haulage industry to “support” more lorry parking spaces and look at ways to improve the standard of lorry parks.
The spokesman said a revised version of the National Planning Policy Framework had been issued that indicates sufficient overnight lorry parking should be considered in planning policies and decisions.
He continued that the government’s point-based immigration system was aimed at getting employers to invest in their domestic workforce rather than relying on labour from abroad.
The spokesman added that under the point-based system HGV drivers were not classed as skilled workers, and that even being added to the Shortage Occupation List would not make HGV drivers qualify as skilled workers.
The Department for Transport has also recently announced a temporary relaxation of drivers’ hours rules. The move was described as “dangerous” by both Mr Cornwell from the RHA and a Unite spokesman.
Natasha Highcroft is one of the directors at Transum Trucking, a haulage firm based in Bungay.
She emphasised that concrete lorry parking promises would make a difference across the board.
She said: “It’s no surprise to me that promises which have been made in years gone by haven’t been fulfilled. The industry has been fighting the government for years over various issues.
“The problem we have is that there’s not enough – the facilities are awful and you have to pay a fortune to get in. Even then there are still break-ins and drivers know that even though the cargo’s not worth their life, it’s still their responsibility.
“I think that’s why a lot of people have left the industry – the onus and the responsibility.
“I think if we had some assurances, it wouldn’t just impact how safe women feel coming into the industry it would make people already in the sector feel so much better.”
She added that clarity around immigration for drivers, and their movement around the EU was also desperately needed.
She said: “UK qualifications are now no longer valid in Europe – you can only do so many stops. However, EU qualifications are still valid here, but we’ve had no concrete assurances about how long that will be the case.”
Transum, which specialises in transporting music equipment for tours, is facing even tougher problems as a result.
“On tours you have loads of stops so we can’t have the same driver doing a tour. We’ve been told we need to set up an EU operation but until we know about training, we don’t know when we’ll need to do that. There just needs to be a complete overhaul of the sector.”
A spokeswoman for Logistics UK said: “Logistics UK is working closely with government to ensure that they implement the policies outlined in the letter to the Department for Transport.
“We have already received a commitment from government to speed up the number of driving tests undertaken by DVSA and an incentive scheme has been launched to encourage businesses to take on new apprentices.
“We continue to engage with government to make the case for other asks in the letter.
“Looking forward, the increased number of driving tests, proposed changes to license acquisition, and the new improved Apprenticeship Standard, will help to address the issue, but are still calling for additional government action.
“For example, granting temporary work visas (as they have with the agricultural sector) to enable EU workers to return and make up the shortfall – after all, there is no point in granting a temporary visa to people to pick crops if there is no one available to drive them to the end customer.”