Ex-haulier blames historical failings for lorry driver shortage

Simon Waspe at the Orwell Crossing truck stop

Simon Waspe enjoying breakfast at the Orwell Crossing truck stop, where eviction notices were served on leaseholders earlier this year amid plans to build a logistics park - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

A former Suffolk haulier has criticised the government's response to driver shortages for failing to address problems he claims have been brewing for decades.

Transport consultant Simon Waspe said the wheels came off the industry long before the recent crisis, as a result of poor pay, conditions, policy and infrastructure.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it had taken immediate action to increase supply of HGV drivers and that progress had been made in improving pay and conditions.

Mr Waspe, 50, who runs Boyton Services, trains drivers and works as a dangerous goods safety adviser, said: "There are so many factors involved. We can't just blame Brexit or Covid."

He said the first Blair ministry's adherence to Conservative fuel and vehicle 'green' tax rises coincided with the lifting of restrictions on 'cabotage' (loading and unloading goods in one country, with a vehicle registered in another), which saw foreign trucks competing for domestic work, while UK hauliers' costs increased.

"People were driving for peanuts on dirty diesel," he added.

"Before all that was the closure and redevelopment of cattle markets in town centres. Over time, roadside cafes also closed, leaving nowhere for drivers to go.

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"Meanwhile, wages have been left behind. I don't believe leaving the EU was a mistake, if it meant drivers' wages get to where they ought to, but the fact that foreign workers have gone home has brought this all to a head.

"If we don't start sharpening our pencils, the future looks very grim."

The government has written to more than one million former HGV drivers to invite them back to the sector.

A spokesman said it had streamlined the testing process and introduced short term visas, while working closely with the industry for months to understand how to boost recruitment, adding: "We also want to see long-term solutions delivered by employers through improved testing and hiring, with better pay and working.”

The DfT said it continued to engage with stakeholders to encourage the development of safe, secure, high-quality lorry parking, including the sharing of information and good practice, such as overcoming planning barriers and improving standards of security and facilities.

It said the revised National Planning Policy Framework, issued in July 2018, included a requirement for sufficient overnight lorry parking.

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