‘Act now to prevent a Christmas crisis’ among HGV drivers, business leaders tell Boris

Business leaders have written to Boris Johnson urging him to “act now to prevent a Christmas crisis” as British industries grapple with an escalating HGV driver shortage.

More than 1,500 leading hauliers and businesses have written to the Prime Minister warning him that ministers risk causing “further damage to not only our businesses and livelihoods, but the UK’s integrated and finely balanced supply chains” without decisive action to tackle the issue.

The letter, signed by bodies such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and the Road Haulage Association (RHA), urged Mr Johnson to “personally intervene to find a full and workable solution to the critical shortage of HGV drivers”.

It called on the Government to add HGV drivers to the Shortage Occupation List for at least 12 months, which would grant foreign workers priority access to the UK because their skills are urgently needed.

Rod McKenzie, Managing Director of the RHA, accused the Government of being “tin-eared”, as he snubbed previous measures to tackle the issue as “lacklustre and ill-conceived”.

“There has never been a more challenging time for the haulage industry, The Prime Minister must act now or risk even more drastic disruption than we have already seen in recent months,” he said. 

“Our members are committed to working in partnership with [the] Government on long-term solutions to attract more drivers into the industry. However, the Government [is] simply not addressing the short-term severity of this crisis, given the 18 months it will take to invest in and train a UK workforce. Lacklustre and ill-conceived proposals such as a three-month visa will not work.”

Mr McKenzie added: “For months, we have been urging for urgent action. The tin-eared approach from Ministers to this spiralling situation cannot continue.”

The letter also urged ministers to relax rules to allow retired drivers to return to work, and to establish “an HGV driver taskforce that would see the haulage industry and Government work together”. 

“Put simply, we will not be able to build back better and recover from the pandemic without a thriving haulage industry and we urge you to take the necessary action to ensure that we can continue to play our essential role underpinning the UK economy, both now and in the future,” the letter said.

The Government earlier this month appointed former Tesco boss Sir David Lewis to advise ministers on how to fix ongoing issues with British supply chains.

Downing Street said Mr Lewis would advise the Prime Minister on both immediate improvements and any necessary long-term changes to iron out post-Brexit and pandemic-related problems with UK supply chains.

Number 10 also said a new supply chain advisory group would “identify the causes of current blockages and pre-empt potential future ones”, as well as advise on resolutions “either through direct Government action or through industry with Government support.”

It follows weeks of mayhem at UK petrol stations after a shortage of HGV drivers meant gas could not be delivered to forecourts despite healthy stocks. 

While petrol pumps have largely returned to normal, households are now being warned of a Christmas crisis in bin collections as drivers quit their jobs for better pay working for supermarkets and food hauliers.

Bin lorry drivers are being offered hefty pay deals worth as much as £40,000 a year to switch to jobs in the food industry amid the ongoing HGV driver shortage. 

Industry figures have warned that the attrition rate in the sector is rising exponentially, with one council in Lancashire declaring last week that it had lost almost half of its drivers in the last three months. 

The RHA estimated earlier this year that the UK is short of more than 100,000 HGV drivers, though Mr McKenzie has since told i that the figure is growing as unattractive working conditions spark a mass exodus. 

It comes after figures published last week by the Office for National Statistics showed that HGV driver numbers have fallen by 53,000 over the past four years.

Mr McKenzie added that measures to tackle the issue unveiled by the Government last month “barely scratch the surface”, and that there could be a further 12 months of disruption even if the industry’s demands are met by ministers. 

The Government last month announced 5,000 temporary three-month visas in a bid to attract foreign HGV drivers, including a new HGV bootcamp designed to encourage youngsters to the indsustry.

“Even if we got everything we wanted, it will still take a year to make any progress,” Mr McKenzie said. 

The Prime Minister has insisted that supply chain pressures are being experienced globally as the world emerges from the pandemic. 

He added that the shortage has been felt particularly sharply in the UK as the country transitions to a “high wage, high productivity economy”.

A Government spokesperson said: “We have already taken immediate action to increase the supply of HGV drivers, streamline the testing process and improve working conditions.

“We will continue to work with the sector to alleviate the challenges facing the industry.”

Read More: ‘Act now to prevent a Christmas crisis’ among HGV drivers, business leaders tell Boris

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