The road haulage sector should be given two years to recruit enough lorry drivers and improve their welfare facilities or face an industry levy, a group of MPs have proposed.
A report from the House of Commons transport committee suggests that a “supply chain levy”, paid by parts of the supply chain where margins are the greatest – such as large retailers, online retailers and oil giants – would assist in building facilities and training new drivers.
It notes that some organisations currently make large profits which do not trickle further down the supply chain to the companies that transport goods. As a result, hauliers and ferry operators are losing money and cannot afford to increase the pay and welfare standards of those they employ.
The sector has struggled to attract and retain drivers, often because of the lack of suitable rest places and overnight parking facilities. Many HGV drivers are forced to stay overnight in locations that leave them vulnerable to crime and unable to properly rest.
Discussions with HGV drivers found they felt “overworked and underpaid”. Several raised concerns about welfare facilities, which are often dirty and vandalised, and one woman said she often had to use men’s facilities becuse there was no separate female provision.
The committee heard evidence that more than 50,000 drivers left the industry at the beginning of 2021, although there have been warnings about a shortage of new lorry drivers for more than a decade.
Brexit and IR35 also pushed some to leave the UK transport industry, although the issue is not unique to the UK, as Germany and Poland also faced a significant shortfall in drivers.
Transport committee chair Huw Merriman said: “We urge government to be brave and force the sector to get its house in order.
“A supply chain levy has worked previously to incentivise reform. If the industry won’t deliver change, government should do so and send them the bill via increased taxes to those who produce and sell and make the most profits.
“This must be accompanied by minimum standards for planning, facilities and employers’ treatment of HGV drivers and seafarers. It’s the least we can ask for those who work so hard to deliver our goods to us.”
Merriman said the moving more freight to rail and water in the long term would be beneficial, as this would not only help decarbonise the sector, but also make it more attractive to drivers who want to operate over shorter distances and see their families at the end of the day, “rather than facing anti-social and dangerous nights sleeping in their cabs”.
He said a lack of diversity is holding expansion in the workforce back: “Women make up as little as 1% of the workforce. The proportion of under-25s is under 3%. For too long, this lack of diversity has seen more drivers retiring than being recruited.”
If the industry won’t deliver change, government should do so and send them the bill via increased taxes to those who produce and sell and make the most profits.” – Huw Merriman, transport committee chair
The Road freight supply chain report adds that the government should recognise driver facilities as key infrastructure assets and should be planned at a national level, as local planning authorities “cannot be expected to deliver a national infrastructure solution”. A lorry parking survey should be used to set regional targets for developing driver facilities and a joint government-industry task force should monitor progress.
The government should also set minimum standards for driver facilities, including security for drivers and vehicles; clean toilet and shower facilities; food options, including healthy choices; and sufficient provision for female drivers.
Other recommendations include:
- Ensuring the road haulage sector funds its own driver training, with the committee adding that it makes “no sense that HGV drivers should have to pay their own training fees when we face continuedd shortages”
- The government, in consultation with the sector, developng a binding code of conduct setting minimum standards for employers’ and other businesses’ treatment of HGV drivers
- Making HGV driver skills bootcamps permanent, with parts of the scheme targeted at underrepresented groups. This could be funded by the apprenticeship levy.
The Road Haulage Association welcomed the committee’s recommendations, including the supply chain levy, but noted that many were limited and temporary, while some of the systemic issues affecting the industry required long-term planning.
The RHA said: “With firms facing huge financial pressures it’s unreasonable for the logistics sector to fund driver training alone, given the significant upfront cost, the acute shortage of drivers and the difficulties in retaining new drivers due to external factors. We’re pleased the report recommends making HGV skills bootcamps a permanent feature and making greater use of apprenticeship levy funds. This is something we’ve repeatedly called for.”
However, industry body Logistics UK felt the committee’s report blamed the road haulage sector for problems encountered across the supply chain.
Chief executive David Wells said: “To place all the blame for the supply chain issues facing our industry at our door does our workers a great disservice, and totally ignores the role which the government and other agencies have played in creating staff recruitment and retention problems across the sector.
“Despite operating on incredibly narrow margins – often of less than 1% – our sector has already made significant investment in the next generation of workers through the apprenticeship levy with £700m paid in by our industry to date. However, due to a lack of appropriate qualifications for the sector, which did not even exist until 2021, only £150 million has been able to be drawn down thus far, representing a tax on our sector and a huge, missed opportunity for recruitment.
“The report’s overview of the sector’s recruitment issues is confused and misleading. Like nearly every other industry in the UK, logistics is facing issues caused by a combination of factors, none of which are within its control. These include an ageing workforce, the loss of European workers after Brexit and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on testing of new HGV drivers.”