Driver shortage to reach crisis point this summer

London, UK: The UK truck driver shortage has worsened with companies warning of a looming crisis by summer.

Driver shortages that have been the norm for decades are now intensifying with Brexit ending recruitment from the EU, a backlog of driving tests caused by Covid-19 and self-employment tax reforms that have led to EU drivers leaving the UK.  

Add to this the fact that nearly a third of the 300,000 UK drivers are over 55 and heading for retirement and the shortage will soon be critical.

Alex Veitch, policy manager, Logistics UK said he had never seen members as concerned as they are now.  

The Road Haulage Association has warned of the impending crisis. “The driver shortage was already critical, with many EU truckers heading home for obvious, Brexit-related reasons,” the RHA said.

“This has been made worse by a complete failure to test new drivers during lockdown, leaving a backlog of thousands of tests – and potential drivers sidelined. Then came IR35.  Let’s be clear this was a tax loophole used by some as a blatant tax dodge. We are against bogus self-employment. The government is right to close this loophole, and to point out that to be a self-employed driver you need to have your own truck and work to your schedule – not that of the boss of a firm. However, no-one likes a pay cut and anger from drivers has led some agencies and individuals to behave in an unscrupulous and likely illegal way. We all know the effect that anger has caused with walkouts and self-furloughing happening and exacerbating the driver shortage. Ultimately, we know this will all add to cost and our customers paying more.

The Financial Times highlighted the issue with comments from hauliers warning that goods are already not being delivered because of driver shortages. 

Last month the Grocer magazine reported that wholesalers were capping deliveries to some Spar  stores in the midlands where driver shortages are acute.

The cancellation of HGV driver tests as a result of coronavirus  restrictions has  thawrted domestic recruitment . Rod McKenzie, managing director, policy and public affairs, Road Haulage Association, told the Financial Times:  “To the public as opposed to the industry this is something of a quiet storm but it could soon turn into a hurricane with shortages evident, escalating stress and tension among suppliers and hauliers”.

Paul Day, the managing director, Turners Soham, where 40% pf drivers are eastern Europeans, said:  “Within three months, goods won’t get delivered. In fact, it’s already happening, there are already loads that are not being covered now”.

Lee Juniper, the operations director at FreshLinc, said hourly wage rates were up by 10 to 30% depending on the region and type of haulage involved. “We can’t get enough drivers to drive our trucks and it is a challenge every day to cover off the volumes.”

The government remains firm that it will not consider truck drivers as high skilled thus allowing business to recruit foreign HGV drivers, an occupation that is not deemed sufficiently skilled to be eligible for the skilled worker visa. 

HM Revenue & Customs IR35 reforms have affected self-employed drivers meaning take home pay has fallen for most and encourage many EU drivers to leave the UK.

Turners has been recruiting in the EU since 2005 and has its own UK driver training programme, but Day said EU recruitment was still the simplest solution because of the limited availability of candidates and the six-months it takes to recruit and train UK drivers.

“The government needs to act before things get out of hand. If the government is not going to change its position on this, then it will put 15 to 20% on transport costs in the UK. Is that something UK plc is really ready for?” Day said.

Few operators believe domestic recruitment can fill the gap  for a job with with long working hours,  tough working conditions, and poor pay.

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In the August issue of Cold Chain News, out now, Gist reveals that it is offering incentives of up to £5,000 for HGV drivers to join its business from August in order to boost capability and resources to deliver chilled foods and fresh produce. bit.ly/3z6j8Si #coldchain

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