Government reveals package of measures to tackle driver shortage crisis

London, UK: The government has finally published a package of measures to help tackle the HGV driver shortage.

In an open letter to the road haulage sector, ministers have pledged to work with industry leaders to attract new drivers, simplify training and encourage people to stay in the industry.

A new consultation will be launched on allowing drivers to take one test to drive both an articulated and rigid lorry. This would streamline the process for new drivers to gain their HGV licence and would increase lorry test appointment availability, says the Department for Transport. The consultation will ensure road safety is paramount and set out that drivers will still be supervised until fully qualified.

The consultation will also look at allowing trainers to actually examine drivers in the off-road manoeuvres part of the HGV driving test, and look at whether specific car and trailer tests should be required. This will allow a significant increase in the number of HGV driving tests to be conducted whilst maintaining road safety standards.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “I understand the challenges faced by drivers and operators right now and while longer-term solutions must be led first and foremost by industry leaders, today we are saying this government is here to help.

“This set of measures will kickstart that help, easing pressure on the sector as we work together to attract new drivers, improve conditions and ensure the industry’s future is a prosperous one.

“The government is also looking to help the road haulage sector improve the working conditions of drivers – something which is key to addressing the shortage and encouraging British workers to forge long, successful careers in the sector. It will support this, initially, by working alongside the industry to support more official parking spaces for lorry drivers and look at ways to improve the standard of lorry parks.

Ministers are also keen to hear more from sector leaders about an industry-led Year of Logistics, looking at various other ways to attract more people to join the industry from all parts of society.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Therese Coffey said: “As part of our Plan for Jobs, we are helping people gain the skills and experience needed to take up opportunities in the haulage sector, including access to key training, and our Jobcentres are playing a vital role in matching jobseekers with the right roles in the sector.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will continue to encourage those who have already left the industry to re-join, confirming that they are developing a new driver training pilot through Jobcentre Plus to bring job-seekers into the industry.

The government has also called on local councils to be flexible around delivery times to supermarkets and other retailers, allowing drivers to make deliveries earlier in the morning or later in the evening where necessary.

The recently announced temporary relaxation of drivers’ hours rules allows HGV drivers to make slightly longer journeys, but must only be used where necessary and must not compromise driver safety, stresses the DfT.

Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at Logistics UK, said:“The plans revealed by government today only go part of the way to addressing the crucial problem areas that the industry has been talking with government about for years. “After all the incredibly hard work to keep the country stocked with all that it needed throughout the pandemic, it is dispiriting to see that the safety and security of our workforce in the course of doing their jobs is still not being prioritised.”

“The lack of available overnight parking spaces continues to be a huge impediment to attracting more people to join the industry and we need the government to make a far clearer commitment to deliver the 1,500 parking spaces it promised in 2018. Without the safe and secure locations in which to take legally mandated rest stops, it will be impossible to diversify the workforce and attract new employees to the sector.”

TTh plan needs concrete targets and timelines to help the industry recruit more drivers:

“It is good to see the urgent focus placed by government on increased HGV driver testing with DVSA, as this is currently the biggest blocker to new entrants entering the workforce,” says de Jong, “but without targets and a workable timeline, this is simply a statement of intent. We need to know how soon the backlog of 25,000 test passes can be cleared more swiftly by the DVSA, as we estimate at current rates this will take 27 weeks (ie until the end of January 2022). We welcome proposals for reform of the vocational driving test process to increase test capacity– but it will take time to make the necessary changes to legislation, and for it to be implemented on the ground, before the full benefit can be felt.”

The Road Haulage Association says that the crisis is so great it needs immediate short-term measures, allowing the industry to work towards the longer-term fixes.

RHA chief executive, Richard Burnett said, “This is a step in the right direction long-term, but it doesn’t address the critical short-term issues we’re facing. The problem is immediate, and we need to have access to drivers from overseas on short-term visas. The idea to simplify training and speed up testing is welcome; along with encouraging recruitment it will only improve things in a year or two’s time.”

The RHA continues to call on ministers to put HGV drivers on the Home Office Shortage Occupation List.

The HGV driver shortage stands at around 100,000.

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