The UK government has held emergency talks with retailers, logistics groups and wholesalers as a shortage of truck drivers threatens to leave gaps on supermarket shelves.
Officials from the Ministry of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have reportedly discussed potential solutions, including easing restrictions on drivers’ working hours and increasing the capacity of driving tests heavy goods vehicles and training to help recruit new local drivers.
Defra is also considering putting drivers on the official list of shortage occupations to facilitate the hiring of foreign workers.
Sources said the ministry plans to interview affected companies in an attempt to strengthen their support for potential regulatory changes.
Industry leaders have warned that the UK faces a summer of food shortages similar to a series of ‘gradual blackouts’ due to the loss of up to 100,000 truck drivers as a result of the Covid-19 and Brexit pandemic.
Sources said retail representatives on this week’s call with Defra expressed concern that reports of potential shortages in stores could lead to panic buying and a return of consumer behavior. storage observed in spring 2020.
There are also fears that the problems will worsen once hotel businesses can fully reopen next month.
Truck driving in the UK has been dominated by Eastern European drivers in recent years, but many have returned home during the pandemic and struggled to return. The industry has also blamed changes in the tax treatment of driver pay for damaging recruitment.
The Logistics UK trade group said nearly 30% of its member companies were unsuccessfully looking for drivers.
Tesco, the UK’s largest food retailer, said driver shortages created 48 tonnes of food waste each week, the equivalent of two trucks.
The problem has been around for a few weeks, but concerns have grown as the industry struggled to cope with a sudden surge in demand for salads and other hot foods during the recent heat wave.
“It was a double whammy: no lettuce and no drivers to get more,” said a retail source.
The lack of drivers adds to the problems of labor shortages across the food industry, including packaging, production facilities and warehouses.
The latest emergency meeting follows a summit with logistics companies and transport ministers 10 days ago to discuss the driver shortage.