Campaign seeks to attract ex-Heavy Goods Vehicle drivers back to the industry

Land Transport

Source: Lloyd's Loading List, 2021-10-05

A campaign is underway to address the severe shortage of Heavy Goods Vehicle drivers in the UK by contacting people with a vocational licence but who are currently not driving for a living in an attempt to attract them back to the profession.

It is being supported by the Road Haulage Association (RHA), the state Department for Transport (DfT) the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), and Logistics UK.

“Over 300,000 people have a Cat C or C+E entitlement, but don’t have a current Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (DCPC),” the RHA noted, adding: “With only a few weeks until the seasonal peak, the only way of increasing numbers of Heavy Goods Vehicle drivers quickly enough is to bring those who already have a relevant licence back into the industry. Some may have retired or changed careers, others might not have driven commercially before.”

The campaign is lobbying for the suspension of Driver CPC for six months, to allow those drivers with a lapsed DCPC to return to driving, and then a ‘one for one’ offer from that point: one day’s driver CPC training for one year’s driving, the RHA explained.

It concluded: “If we could persuade just 10% of these licence holders to become a Heavy Goods Vehicle driver, this would help ease the current strain on the supply chain. Some may consider returning for a short time, given the remuneration incentives currently on offer. Others may take up the career longer term.”

The UK has an estimated shortage of 100,000 drivers after between 16,000 and 20,000 European drivers returned home after Brexit. Exacerbating factors include the closure of testing sites during Covid-19 lockdowns which led to 40,000 new driver tests being cancelled while many older drivers have quit the profession amid complaints about certification requirements, changes to tax regulations and below-par roadside facilities.

At the end of September, the government announced that it would relax the visa scheme to allow 5,000 truckers from Europe into the country for a temporary period to ease the driver shortage.

But the plans have been much criticised for being inadequate to deal with the scale of the crisis, and the visa offer too short – at just two to three months, until 24 December. Various UK retailers and logistics representatives described the visa scheme as set up to fail, warning that consumers would face significantly less choice and gaps on shelves at Christmas because there were not enough drivers to meet demand.

Following the criticism, the UK government said the new immigration measures will allow 300 fuel drivers to arrive immediately and stay until the end of March, while 100 army drivers will take to the roads from 4 October, the government announced late last week, while about 4,700 further food haulage drivers will be allowed to arrive from late October and leave by the end of February, The Guardian reported. The UK faces a competitive battle with EU countries to attract more lorry drivers and ease the fuel and food supply crisis, a cabinet minister has admitted.

Richard Walker, Managing Director of food retailer Iceland, told The Times: “The government always seems to be behind the curve on realising the severity of the (driver shortage) issue or coming up with a solution. They were really reluctant to relax visa rules, and now they’ve made it as difficult as possible to use the system.”

The Head of fashion retailer Next, Lord Wolfson, accused the government of not responding quickly enough to the lorry driver crisis and has warned that its operations will not be as efficient as usual in the run-up to Christmas. He underlined that the biggest area of concern for his business was a shortage of warehouse workers, which could result in Next bringing forward cut-off times during its peak season for next-day deliveries.

While its inventory levels were at present “far from optimal,” customers would not see gaps on its clothes rails this Christmas, he told The Times.

Supply chains are already under extreme pressure because of delays caused by shipping container shortages and blockages at ports.

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