UK cabinet divided over solution to truck driver shortage

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A cabinet split is hampering government efforts to deal with the nationwide truck driver shortage that threatens fuel supplies at some gas stations and sparked panic fuel purchases on Friday, the Guardian learned.

Ministers are divided on how best to tackle the truck driver shortage, with a Friday afternoon meeting expected to seek a compromise on whether to recruit more drivers from overseas.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Friday he would move “heaven and earth” to solve the problem, and kept on the table the idea of ​​adding truck drivers to the “list of professions in shortage ”, which would make it easier for foreign drivers to enter the country.

But several sources said Shapps and Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, were skeptical about the idea, and another source said the Interior Ministry, led by Priti Patel, was not convinced either.

The idea is being pushed by Environment Secretary George Eustice and the Cabinet Office, headed by Steve Barclay, as a way to increase the availability of drivers to deliver gasoline to forecourt.

One potential compromise that is to be discussed on Friday is a special short-term visa regime for truck drivers who could face the immediate crisis.

The Home Office will ultimately make the decision to ease restrictions on drivers, with the government recognizing that something needs to be done about the shortage to avoid scenes of chaos at gas stations.

Kwarteng believes oil companies should pay their drivers more and offer better working conditions, rather than the UK seeking to recruit from overseas.

A source from Whitehall said cabinet ministers opposed to the shortfall list solution would prefer a plan to bring back to the industry some of the 600,000 heavy truck licensed people who are not currently employed. as drivers.

Another high-ranking government source said some ministers appeared to want to avoid the perception that Brexit was causing the shortage at all costs, which explains their reluctance to relax immigration rules.

Earlier on Friday, Shapps said he would consider all options, including the possibility of issuing short-term skilled worker visas to tap the pool of potential heavy truck drivers in mainland Europe. He said motorists should not panic as the problem would be “resolved relatively quickly”.

“I’m going to watch everything,” he told Sky News. “I wouldn’t exclude anything. We will move heaven and earth to do whatever it takes to make sure shortages are alleviated with heavy truck drivers. “

Asked about the Petrol Retailers Association warning that drivers should keep a quarter of a tank of fuel in their cars in case the forecourt runs out, Shapps played down the issue and said motorists should “just keep going. habit ‘and don’t panic.

“I’m not saying there is no problem,” he said. ” There was a problem. Although there are stresses and strains in the system, overall it has not impacted people’s daily lives when it comes to refueling. There is no shortage of fuel in the refineries.

Shapps blamed Covid, which he said delayed 40,000 drivers from taking their heavy truck driving tests, but added that the government had changed the law to ease the “bottleneck.” More than twice as many drive tests were now available than before the pandemic, he said.

Shapps said the driver shortage was not a new problem and that the UK had long relied on “importing cheap European labor, often from Eastern Europe, undermining the internal market ”. He added, “We need to make it a more attractive industry,” welcoming the pay and wage increases for heavy truck drivers.

Asked about the role of Brexit in the driver crisis, he said EU countries such as Poland and Germany were experiencing “very big and even bigger” shortages. “I’ve seen people point to Brexit as the culprit here; in fact, they are wrong, ”he said. “Thanks to Brexit, I was able to change the law and change the way our driving tests are taken in ways that I could not have done if we were still part of the EU. Brexit actually provided part of the solution.

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