A major shortage in the number of skilled truck and van drivers looks set to threaten supplies to supermarkets this summer. Many companies within the logistics industry have joined with the Road Haulage Association (RHA) to send a letter to government, asking for help with the driver shortage.
“It is our collective view that there has never been a more challenging time for this industry and we urge you to take these decisive steps, to ensure that we can continue to maintain the UK’s integrated and finely balanced supply chains,” said RHA chief executive, Richard Burnett.
The RHA predicts that there is currently a shortage of at least 60,000 drivers in the UK road transport industry. This has been caused by a number of factors. The pandemic has seen many overseas drivers returning to their country of origin, the majority of whom have not returned.
The average age of an HGV driver in the UK is 55, with less than 1% under the age of 25. Prolonged layoffs have resulted in much of this aging workforce retiring early, or finding employment in less demanding sectors.
During a typical year, 72,000 people train to become HGV drivers, of which 40,000 will succeed in joining the industry. With vocational driving tests shut down through much of last year, only 15,000 drivers passed their test, a drop of 25,000 over the previous year.
With the introduction of IR35 tax rules, that were designed to tax disguised self-employment at a rate similar to full employment, a large proportion of agency labour has been withdrawn, as low profit margin logistics businesses were unable to sustain demands for major wage increases.
As the problem cannot be solved in the short-term, simply by training more drivers, the industry is asking for the introduction of a temporary work visa for overseas HGV drivers and for this occupation to be added to the Home Office Shortage Occupation list. Longer term, the RHA is calling for a taskforce to be established, to help drive change in recruitment and training of domestic drivers.
The RHA would also like to see the re-establishment of the DEFRA Food Resilience Industry Forum, which was recently disbanded, that helped to ensure the nation’s supply integrity throughout the pandemic.