Ongoing HGV driver shortage means army on standby to address empty food shelves

HGV lorry 1

With the current deficit for HGV drivers in the UK standing at 100,000, there have been widespread reports of food shortages in the UK. As a result of the HGV Driver shortage, the UK Telegraph recently reported that 2,000 military HGV drivers were on standby to help restock food shelves across Britain.

Why is there such a shortage of HGV drivers in the UK?

There are various reasons for the current shortage of HGV Drivers, but arguably none have had the dramatic impact on the dwindling driver numbers that COVID and Brexit have had.

David Jinks M.I.L.T, Head of Consumer Research at home delivery expert ParcelHero, says: “Last October, ParcelHero released an analysis of Government migration figures revealing that, due to Covid and Brexit, around a quarter of a million people from the EU had quit the UK since the start of the year. Without doubt, that’s contributed to a shortfall of around 70,000 HGV drivers in the UK.”

According to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Pall-Ex Group, Kevin Buchanan: “The combination of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic has compounded the driver shortage that has been an ever-increasing threat for several years.

“Drivers having to isolate and those who have chosen to leave the industry because of covid, as well as a vastly reduced talent pool thanks to most European drivers no longer having freedom of movement into the UK has seen the number of skilled drivers fall off a cliff in the last 18 months.”

“Free movement ending at the culmination of 2020 has meant that if you are European and not living in the UK prior to this date, you need a visa to come and live and work here,” says Juliet Oury, Employment Solicitor and Partner at Oury Clark Solicitors.

“The Europeans who left in the pandemic cannot now return to the UK and work (unless they previously applied under the EU settlement scheme). This means that businesses that relied on Europeans previously will have to sponsor them under the skilled visa route, which only enables certain “skilled” jobs to be sponsored.

“While the pursuit of highly skilled, highly productive and highly paid labour from overseas is a noble one – this would take decades to achieve. And the fact of the matter is that low skilled, low paid jobs will always exist – and keeping them for everyone but the British seems like not only a detrimental strategy but also lacking in sense.

“There is also the added issue that sponsorship is costly and time consuming for businesses. This is only set to get worse. Ultimately, if we are to remain a leading international player, we must open our borders to business migration.”

Brexit and the pandemic are not the only reasons for the driver shortage; one of the other contributing factors to the driver shortage is that there are few incentives for younger people to get into the industry.

Craig Stevens, Managing Director of Pall-Ex shareholder member STD Developments Limited, said: “There needs to be a greater incentive for young people to get into driving HGVs.

“Providing support with the cost of training and forcing insurance companies to cover new drivers would be a step in the right direction to solving the problem.”

As a result, the average age for HGV drivers in the UK stands at 56, which has contributed to 74% of Pall-EX group members reporting that their business was affected by driver shortages every day.

What has been done to combat the HGV driver shortage?

One of the major proposals put forward by the government to tackle the driver shortage was to temporarily extend the working hours of HGV drivers.

Under previous regulations, HGV drivers can drive for a maximum of nine hours a day, which must be broken up by a break of at least 45 minutes after 4.5 hours of driving.

However, the temporary regulations increased the daily driving limit to 10 hours a day, with one 11-hour day allowed up to twice in one week.

This had led to calls from several members of the logistics and transport industry that extending HGV driver working hours is unsafe, meaning the temporary regulations are not being enforced nationwide.

Simon Hobbs, Chief Executive of Kinaxia Logistics, said: “Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our colleagues is our first priority. It is at the heart of the values that underpin our business. It is of paramount importance to us in terms of retaining our existing team and recruiting new drivers.

“We do not feel that extending working hours is in the interests of safety of our drivers and as a result we will not be enforcing the measure.”

The temporary HGV driving regulations will now run until October 3rd, 2021, but their effectiveness in addressing the food shortages is limited by safety concerns.

A temporary visa scheme designed to make it easier for foreign lorry drivers to work in the UK was also announced in mid-October. Applicants for a temporary visa must apply by 1st December 2021 and drivers will only be granted permission to stay until 28th February 2022. However, this is only for HGV drivers transporting food goods.

“Ultimately this is too little, too late, although it is perhaps a step in the right direction,” says Juliet Oury. “The new visas announced and introduced for HGV drivers are only for HGV drivers to transport food goods. You have to apply by 1st December 2021, the visa is short-lived, and only a maximum of 4,700 visas will be allowed.

“The Government is assuming that there is a queue of HGV qualified drivers willing and able to immediately apply, and who want to come to the UK immediately until early next year with no prospect of extending their visa or getting any right to stay.”

“Whilst I love the UK and think it’s an incredible place, we really need to be looking at things for the longer term. This means being open to business migration, enabling businesses to recruit and train the people they need and not be reliant on government policy – which to be frank is usually way behind the curve.”

What could be done to stop the food shortage?

“To improve the situation, I’d like to see a relaxation of the CPC regulations allowing drivers, whose certification has lapsed, to come back into the business and have 12 months grace to complete refresher training,” said Dave Webster, Managing Director of Yorkshire-based transport services provider Brocklehurst Transport.

Dave continues: “The Government needs to encourage insurance companies to lower the minimum age from 25 to 21, as this means so many more talented young drivers can enter the industry. This would be a massive help!”

The Road Haulage Association (RHA), the UK’s only trade association dedicated to road transport operators, also says it needs access to EU and EEA labour to address the driver shortage and has asked for the introduction of a temporary worker visa for HGV drivers.

The RHA is also calling for this occupation to be added to the Home Office Shortage Occupation List.

Steven Holmes, Sales Director UK&I, BluJay Solutions: “The lorry driver shortage is set to get worse over the coming weeks, with ‘return to work’ prompting more deliveries, and the holiday season approaching. As the search for a permanent solution continues, supply chain managers would be wise to adopt agile technologies that alleviate the strain and make everyday tasks frictionless.

“In the absence of enough drivers to get the goods flowing frictionlessly, this end can still be achieved through data, networks and applications. At the border, automated customs declarations and remote submission to HMRC can vastly reduce hassle and worry.

“When trade is disrupted, connecting with global trade networks can help to smoothly orchestrate resilient trading worldwide. And the vast increase in customer expectations for fast and high-quality delivery is more easily tackled by technologies that increase visibility for both drivers and customers. Thanks to the wealth of available technologies, drivers needn’t fear the supply chain of today…or tomorrow.”