Lobby groups have written to the government calling for an urgent review of its plans not to grant temporary work visas to drivers from the EU.
Logistics UK and the British Retail Consortium have sent a letter to business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng claiming there is a shortfall of 90,000 HGV drivers, which is “placing increasingly unsustainable pressure on retailers and their supply chains”.
The HGV driver shortage has continued to make headlines this summer, impacting produce deliveries to supermarkets and even forcing restaurant chain Nando’s to close a number of outlets due to supply chain issues.
In their letter, the groups reiterate that the pandemic has created a backlog of HGV driver tests, while around 25,000 drivers from the EU returned to their home countries due to Covid-19 and the end of the Brexit transition period.
The government has said it will not grant temporary work visas to EU workers – similar to the seasonal worker visas granted to farm and crop workers – and has insisted that employers train up UK workers instead.
It announced a package of measures in July to streamline driver testing processes, meaning around 2,000 people could pass tests each week as opposed to the current capacity of 1,500. But Logistics UK said this would be unlikely to solve the current shortage until 2022.
The government also announced a temporary relaxation of working hours rules so drivers could make longer journeys, but this was also criticised due to the potential implications for health and safety.
According to the Office for National Statistics, 14,000 EU lorry drivers left jobs in the UK in the year to June 2020, and only 600 had returned by July this year.
Supermarkets including Tesco and Aldi have offered recruitment bonuses and higher pay in a bid to attract drivers, but industry groups warn that the situation could still worsen in the coming weeks.
They have asked the government to deliver three specific measures: review its decision not to grant temporary work visas for EU drivers while UK drivers are trained and tested; to reform the National Skills Fund, in particular around the apprenticeship levy so trainees can start driving as soon as possible; and to improve Covid testing facilities to enable daily testing.
Last week, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) launched a campaign to recruit 40 new vocational examiners to help reduce the shortage, increasing its capacity to 3,000 tests a week through overtime and additional testers.
DVSA chief executive Loveday Ryder said: “We recognise the haulage industry keeps the wheels of our economy turning and have listened to its concerns about the current lorry driver shortage.
“We have responded by doing all we can to support the industry in tackling this issue through increasing lorry driver testing.
“This includes our latest campaign to recruit more vocational examiners so we can maximise our lorry testing capacity.”
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