Lorry drivers: Act now to avert crisis, government told

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The government is coming under further pressure to help alleviate the UK's lorry driver shortage.

Lobby groups for the retail and transport industries have jointly written to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng warning the impact on supply chains is getting worse.

They want a review of plans not to grant temporary work visas to drivers from the EU, and better training.

Ministers have said employers should invest in British workers.

Logistics UK, which represents freight firms, and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) say that while Brexit and Covid-19 caused lorry drivers to leave the UK, a temporary visa could lure them back.

The two groups said in their letter a shortfall of about 90,000 HGV drivers "is placing increasingly unsustainable pressure on retailers and their supply chains".

"While there was a shortage of HGV drivers prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, these two events have exacerbated situation.

"The pandemic halted driver training and testing for over 12 months, while an estimated 25,000 EU drivers returned home during the pandemic and following the end of the transition period."

The situation is likely to worsen over the coming weeks, the groups warn. The start of the school year and return of workers to offices is likely to increase the number of deliveries and locations, and the industry is fast approaching its busiest period - the build up to Christmas.

The two groups call for three specific measures:

  • Review the decision not to grant temporary work visas to HGV drivers from the European Union. It would help in the short term while a driver testing backlog is cleared and new drivers trained
  • Reform the National Skills Fund to enable HGV driver training to be funded and injecting flexibility into Apprenticeship Levy, such as enabling "front-loading" of training to get trainees driving as soon as possible into the 12-month programme.
  • Improve testing Covid facilities so that HGV drivers can be tested daily.

The Road Haulage Association has already said that there was shortfall of about 60,000 lorry drivers in the UK over the summer. Supermarkets such as Tesco and Aldi have been offering bonuses and other incentives to boost recruitment, but the labour squeeze continues.

Analysis of the latest ONS Labour Force Survey for the second quarter suggests that 14,000 EU lorry drivers left jobs in the UK in the year to June 2020, and only 600 had returned by July 2021.

A government spokesperson said on Friday: "The British people repeatedly voted to end free movement and take back control of our immigration system and employers should invest in our domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad.

"We recently announced a package of measures to help tackle the HGV driver shortage, including plans to streamline the process for new drivers to gain their HGV licence and to increase the number of tests able to be conducted.

"We have also temporarily relaxed drivers' hours rules to allow HGV drivers to make slightly longer journeys, but these must only be used where necessary and must not compromise driver safety."

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