A mixture of fewer driving tests being carried out due to coronavirus lockdowns and EU based drivers having gone home following Brexit has led to a shortfall of 100,000 drivers, the Road Haulage Association believes.
The issues has led to many businesses not being able to trade, shortages on supermarket shelves and at food outlets and an urgent scramble to try to find a way around the issues.
This week Chorley council has appealed to the Government to act and has launched a recruitment drive after struggling with a shortage of bin waggon drivers.
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The Government this week announced that in order to speed things up,new HGV drivers will only have to take one test rather than two for both a rigid and articulated lorries and that car drivers will also no longer have to take another test to tow a trailer or caravan, freeing up more examiner time to carry out HGV tests.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “The shortage of drivers is a global problem, but we’ve been taking action here in the UK to help industry leaders attract drivers and build a more resilient sector. We’ve already delivered 50 per cent more tests than were available before the pandemic, but today’s additional measures will deliver up to 50,000 more a year.”
But Jim McMahon, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, said: “Cutting corners on tests, coupled with increasing working hours for HGV drivers, is a recipe for disaster.”
One county business badly hit by transport issues is Lytham Gin, the award-winning drinks firm founded by Sara Dewhurst. She said: “My bottle supplier cannot get any more bottles until the end of September to fulfil the order I placed towards the end of August. I’ve run out of bottles now so have closed the distillery, bringing forward an annual holiday to try and make the best of a bad situation.
“It’s very frustrating and similar shortages have happened over the summer. I ran out of caps in July because another supplier took four weeks to deliver them.”
Paul Foster FSB Development Manager for Lancashire said: “Driver shortages as well as shipping delays are definitely starting to bite for Lancashire businesses in the last couple of weeks, businesses are finding that it is taking longer to receive the goods they have ordered and consumers are noticing the lack of stock on shelves too.
“It’s a real conundrum and is leading to higher wage rates for drivers but also businesses are trying to source more locally so they aren’t as reliant on haulage or delivery firms. Cashflow is also being impacted as businesses pay out for goods that they are waiting longer to receive.
“It’s an extra complication and cost that businesses could really do without right now as many seek to get up to speed following the pandemic restrictions.”
Bosses at Chorley Council are urging the Government to tackle the HGV driver shortage, which is affecting bin collections across the country.
The logistics and retail industry has been hit hard with gaps on supermarket shelves and more recently waste collections have been under threat with councils already suspending services.
Councillor Alistair Bradley, Leader of Chorley Council, said: “The shortage of HGV drivers has been well documented but if we are going to resolve it we need the Government to step in and help.
“The two key drivers behind this issue are Covid and some of the spin off effects of Brexit.
“The British Retail Consortium and haulier bodies have set out what will help and I agree these are things we now need to see – including increasing the testing capacity of the DVLA and for the government to review its decision not to grant temporary work visas to HGV drivers from the EU, as such drivers could supplement the domestic HGV workforce in the short term.”
Chorley has managed to keep services going by doing all it can with its waste contractor FCC Environment to ensure there are enough drivers. He added: “Not only have FCC been on a recruitment drive we are also looking at a scheme to train up more of our own drivers setting people up with skills and supporting employment.”
Geoff Mason, policy manager at the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce said: “The shortage of drivers is posing a significant problem for many businesses relying on regular deliveries of supplies.
“This is just one of a number of issues facing our businesses with scarcity and increasing costs of raw materials, as well as prices rising dramatically for shipping. There is the very real prospect that these problems could slow down post-Covid recovery with rising inflation increasingly likely.
“The Chamber network is urging the Government to act quickly on these issues to help our businesses rebuild after such a difficult period.
“With regard to the lack of HGV drivers we want to see these roles added to the Shortage Occupation List, allowing temporary visas.”