The government’s plans to tackle the chronic truck driver shortage in the UK will take at least five months to take effect and not face the threat of food shortages this summer, industry executives have warned.
Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps’ offer to speed up licensing processes to put an army of new drivers on the road is not enough to address the issue affecting summer, fall and winter supplies. Christmas, they said.
They say the driver shortage can only be remedied if EU drivers are allowed to reenter the country.
“While they have outlined some things they would like to do, as it stands we can’t see a solution this side of Christmas,” said James Firth, head of regulatory policy. road freight at Logistics UK, which represents freight owners, including supermarkets.
He estimates a shortage of 90,000 truck drivers, including around 25,000 European truckers who have returned home after Brexit. On top of that, there is a backlog of 25,000 truck driver license applications.
Ministers on Tuesday announced a consultation to allow drivers to take a test to drive articulated and rigid trucks to speed up the process of obtaining licenses for all types of heavy goods vehicles.
But the plans have been criticized by the Road Haulage Association (RHA) for failing to address short-term “critical” issues in the area.
Firth said the new proposals to eliminate the backlog of heavy truck driving tests could not come into effect until October at the earliest because they require legislation.
“Our members tell us that the only thing that will solve this problem in the short term is the flexibility of the immigration system,” he said.
But the government has ruled out this possibility. In a letter to Shapps, Environment Secretary George Eustice and Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said the industry “needs to develop people residing in the UK instead of specifically providing visas for this group of workers ”.
Priti Patel’s new points-based system requires low-skilled workers entering the UK, who are not on the skills shortage list, to be A-level or equivalent or above, excluding many truck drivers.
The industry has said that it is exceptionally difficult to attract staff to an industry that is not seen as attractive to young people. A logistics official told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee it was “embarrassing” that she couldn’t hire new drivers even after raising wages by 15-20%.
Logistics UK and the Road Haulage Association blame the lack of support, including the lack of secure parking for sleeping and showering on the highways, especially in Kent.
Last month, the Unite union said the ban on parking in parking areas and the shortage of parking lots and toilets had left services and truck parks in the county “chronically overcrowded”, with brawls erupting between truck drivers trying to get places for compulsory rest.
Shane Brennan, managing director of the Cold Chain Federation, which represents the owners of refrigerated warehouses, said the driver shortage is compounded by staff shortages caused by the “pingemia” now plaguing food storage and deliveries. .
“We have been in a continuous crisis since the start of 2020.
“In an industry where we are struggling if we didn’t have 98% of our order fulfillment to delivery, we are now at 80%,” he said. “What we’ve seen over the past eight weeks is that retailers are starting to lower their expectations, so instead of five deliveries a week, they would drop to three days a week.
“The industry cannot plan two months in advance and does not have the free space to think about Christmas,” he added.