UK

Covid lorry driver shortage crisis ‘is easing’: Higher wages lead to ‘cautious optimism’

Britain’s lorry driver crisis could be easing after ‘significant steps’ were taken to address serious recruitment issues – but smaller fleets are still suffering, transport bosses have claimed.

Logistics UK, a sector representative based in Tunbridge Wells, said there was ‘cautious optimism’ following months of HGV driver shortages.

Last month ministers announced the end of limits on the number of deliveries EU drivers can make in Britain each week. It came after just 20 foreigners took up the offer of a visa extension.

A change to the driving test requirements and higher wages were among a number of measures brought in to help bring on board more HGV workers. There have since been more HGV driving tests and a threefold increase in licence applications.

Last year the sector faced the closure of testing centres for lorry drivers because of the pandemic alongside an exodus of drivers from the European continent amid Brexit.

Logistics UK, a sector representative based in Tunbridge Wells, said there was ‘cautious optimism’ following months of HGV driver shortages (file image)

Last month ministers announced limits on the number of deliveries EU drivers can make in Britain each week would end after the offer of a visa extension led to just 20 being issued to foreigners. Pictured, lorries at the Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk

Last month ministers announced limits on the number of deliveries EU drivers can make in Britain each week would end after the offer of a visa extension led to just 20 being issued to foreigners. Pictured, lorries at the Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk

The ensuing crisis saw empty shelves in supermarkets and petrol stations without fuel earlier this year.

But the Logistics UK Skills Report 2021 seemed to signal the crisis could be coming to a close. 

Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at the organisation, said more needed to be done to solve the problem.

She told Kent Online: ‘Although average driver pay surged 10% in the nine months to October 2021 in order to retain existing staff and attract new drivers, smaller fleet operators are still not back to full fleet capacity after the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown, and their inability to compete for drivers by offering higher wages appears to be hindering their efforts to recruit new staff.’

A Hoyer tanker makes a delivery at a Shell petrol station in Basingstoke, Hampshire

A Hoyer tanker makes a delivery at a Shell petrol station in Basingstoke, Hampshire

Last month Transport Secretary Grant Shapps admitted a short-term fix was needed to a long-term problem where more British lorry drivers would be needed. 

He said: ‘The temporary changes we’re consulting on to cabotage rules will also make sure foreign hauliers in the UK can use their time effectively and get more goods moving in the supply chain at a time of high demand.’

He also insisted that Christmas would ‘go ahead’.  

He said: ‘With Christmas last year we were worried about being able to see loved ones and families. There’ll be no issues with that this year and we’ll make sure that the supply chain is doing what it should be doing, which is what these measures we are taking, including this alterations to this cabotage today, is designed to do. 

‘Christmas will go ahead, we’ll be able to see our friends and families. There will be food, there will be gifts.

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‘I do know that the entire world has a squeeze on its supply chain. That’s because we’re all coming out of this very long period of coronavirus, and the UK economy, perhaps particularly because we’ve got an expanding economy, the fastest growing in the G7, means that there are particular stresses and strains.

‘But we’re taking a whole range of measures, including one that I’m announcing today about the way that lorry drivers from abroad pick up and drop things off, the so called cabotage rules. And under our changes that will mean that they can, in an unlimited way by Christmas, pick up and drop off goods within this country within a 14-day period.’

Reacting, Andrew Acre CEO of the Independent British Retailers Association, said: ‘It sounds as if it could ease some of the issues. One of the challenges within the supply chain is the lack of HGV availability to move stock around in this country so we know there are containers waiting to be emptied at ports. 

‘And if this scheme, if this temporary scheme is able to increase our capacity at HGV level, hopefully that will allow us to move these goods around far more efficiently than we are at the moment around the UK so fingers crossed that it adds that capacity to the system, which we all need to happen so that we can get the goods to the shops quicker.’    


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