Visa scheme for foreign drivers discussed in behind the door talks

London, UK: Talks at government level have explored the idea of creating a short-term visa scheme for foreign lorry drivers to help with the driver shortage crisis, according to press reports.

The industry has asked for visas to address the shortage which some have estimated to be as high as 100,000. It wants drivers to be added to the so-called Shortage Occupations list, allowing them to qualify for a skilled worker visa.

However, the Home Office denied that there were plans to introduce the visas. The Telegraph reports that the Home Office is strongly opposed to relaxing controls, which were tightened when free movement ended with Brexit, It is understood that Department for Transport officials have demanded compelling evidence from the industry to prove the value of a temporary visa scheme.

“We need long-term solutions to recruit a new generation of British lorry drivers into the trade, but short-term there is an urgent need for foreign drivers to be allowed in, under the Shortage Occupations list,” said Rod McKenzie, policy director at the Road Haulage Association (RHA).

One measure that the government has recently introduced is a temporary extension to drivers’ hours.

“Extending lorry drivers’ hours, as the government is doing, is a bad idea. Tired drivers don’t make better drivers or safer roads,” McKenzie said.

Logistics UK and the RHA have criticised claims by transport minister Baroness Vere that hauliers have ignored government warnings to prepare for the driver shortage for the last five years. In a House of Lord’s debate on the driver shortage issue Vere said: “I have been roads minister now for two years, and I had this conversation [about driver shortages] with the haulage sector two years ago.

“The TSC [Transport Select Committee] issued a report in 2016, pointing out exactly what the sector needed to do to address the shortage it had then, and yet still not enough has been done.”

She said hauliers had saved millions of pounds from the government suspending the HGV levy last year, stressing that this should be put into training more drivers.

However, McKenzie accused Baroness Vere of trying to blame the haulage industry for driver shortage.
He said: “We find Baroness Vere’s comments extremely unhelpful and likely to engender more hostility from our members who already see government as complacent in tackling the driver shortage.”

Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at Logistics UK, said: “Baroness Vere said that the Transport Select Committee report from 2016 included several actions to for industry to address the issue. However, our submission to that committee inquiry asked for many of the same solutions from government that we are still campaigning for today.

“For instance, in 2016 we asked for government to make HGV Driver and other Level 2 courses eligible under the Advanced Learner Loan. We also urged government to provide safe and secure parking spaces to give people additional confidence to enter the sector. Six years on, we are no further forward on either of these requests.”

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