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Industry condemns Government measures on HGV driver crisis

The Government’s measures to help alleviate the shortage of HGV drivers in the UK are simply “PR spin by the Cabinet Office”, said Charles Hogg, Commercial Director, Unsworth, in an interview with Lloyd’s Loading List. “And when you drill down to the details, you see how little difference they will make.”

The 5,000 visas are available for only three months and essentially only for those drivers who will be involved in the distribution of food to supermarkets. So out of about 3,000 haulage companies, only about 40 would be able to benefit – assuming foreign drivers even apply for the visas.

“Who will come to the UK for just three months?” asked Hogg. “We will have to pay mega-bucks – so we’ll see drivers earning more than investment bankers.”

But he stressed that the current shortage of drivers is about a lot more than money. “Obviously we lost drivers because of Brexit, but it is not an industry that people want to go into and the conditions are simply not as good as in most of the rest of Europe. We don’t even list it as a skilled profession.”

He said the attempt to increase HGV driver testing capacity showed “the Government has its heart in the right place”, but that it is likely to take until April or May next year to recover from the Covid backlog.

Freight forwarder Unsworth is booking transport 45 days in advance “which is unheard of…. In order to achieve a low failure rate, we have two or three people working full time just to keep on top of what is going on.”

Hogg added that it is inevitable that all this will result in price inflation as the logistics suppliers cannot absorb the extra costs.

‘Lily-livered compromise’

Express company ParcelHero said the Government’s ‘lily-livered’ compromise won’t scratch the surface of the EU driver problem.

Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks, said: ‘The driver shortage has now led to a fuel crisis. The Government’s suspension of the competition law, to allow fuel companies to target specific petrol stations, is another sticking plaster that won’t stop the bleeding.

“Tanker drivers are the elite airline pilots of road haulage; these skilled drivers are trained and tested continually. You cannot let a newly qualified lorry driver take over the wheel of a petrol tanker, especially after the Government recently dumbed down the HGV driver’s test.”

He added: “The UK’s entire logistics network is consequently on the verge of a major crisis. The Government may think it has stuck its finger in the dyke in the nick of time and stopped the flood of shortages. In fact, the UK’s supply-chain is now riddled with holes, and unless the Government makes the package to EU drivers vastly more attractive, Christmas shortages are now a certainty.”

‘Token measure action’

Mike Bowden, Group Marketing Director, Cory Brothers, said: “Whilst we welcome any positive activity to improve this situation, these measures are not nearly enough. I’m deflated by the Government’s lack of attention to this long warned of issue and token measure action when the alarm bells having been sounding for years.”

He agrees that 5,000 visas is not enough and that it certainly will not result in 5,000 HGV drivers turning up next week. “The haulage industry needs meaningful help on all levels to ensure that its status as a vital service is recognised and re-established.

“Drivers have endured too much for too long: low wages, worsening conditions, fewer service options, massive cost increases, a lack of facilities and an astonishing lack of respect. I would urge the government to really listen to all HGV drivers, to engage with the supply chain companies and all the key stakeholders who keep the trade flowing and delivered.

He said the company is working with the local chamber of commerce to really push this message and help resolve this growing crisis. “This situation can be improved and in good time but only if the Government really engage, listen and take meaningful action.”


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