Priti Patel urged to relax immigration rules with HGV driver-shortage crisis predicted to worsen

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A shortage of HGV drivers is threatening supermarket supplies with firms warning some shelves may be empty for months to come unless the government acts to address the labour shortage.

Councils across the UK have also been forced to suspend waste collection services due to a lack of drivers with the Environmental Services Association (ESA) calling on home secretary Priti Patel to relax immigration rules to allow firms to recruit European drivers.

The ESA report 15% driver vacancy rates while the Road Haulage Association estimates a UK-wide shortage of some 100,000 drivers across all sectors caused by Brexit and the coronavirus.

Organisations representing logistics firms and hauliers fear August will become a “pinch point”, reports the Guardian, as drivers ”who have been working flat out since the start of the pandemic” take holidays.

Bonuses to recruit drivers are creating ‘a real problem’, warns RHA

The RHA has warned that companies offering signing-on bonuses and other incentives are creating “a real problem” with some lorry companies offering up to £5,000 bonuses – and full training – for new drivers in an attempt to combat the crisis.

“We’re firefighting right now,” warns Shane Brennan, the chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, who fears the problem will get worse.

“We have got a lot of vacancies but also a lot of workers on holiday. We’ve got a short-term summer problem. We’re going to have interruptions on the shelves – we’re resigned to that.”

Milk deliveries have already been hit and Arla – daily suppliers to some 2,400 stores across the UK – said on Friday (July 30) that 600 shops did not get deliveries due to driver shortages on the previous Saturday. Arla are offering signing-on bonuses of £2,000 for new drivers willing to work weekends – twice the bonus being offered by Tesco.

“Since around mid-April, we have been experiencing driver shortages, particularly in the south of the country,” said Ash Amirahmadi, managing director of Arla Foods UK. “It’s progressively got worse and our assessment is that we’re currently now facing a driver shortage crisis.”

Arla, Tesco, local councils and many other businesses who are offering drivers signing on fees and bonuses are creating “a real problem” said the RHA’s Rod McKenzie, “because all they are doing is buying talent from somewhere else. They are not creating talent.”

McKenzie added: “We may be paying them more, which is a good thing, but we need new drivers. My challenge to the companies is: why not spend some money on recruiting and training new drivers?”

Gist – a firm delivering chilled foods and fresh produce for clients including Marks and Spencer is offering new drivers bonus packages worth up to £5,000, comprising a £2,000 signing on payment and retention payments for continue service.

Crisis caused by Brexit, Covid and 2020’s ‘complete shutdown of vocational driving tests’

A study for the RHA published in June said the driver shortage is the result of “the complete shutdown of vocational driving tests” in 2020 because of the pandemic, with Brexit and Covid also impacting.

In a letter to Boris Johnson – signed by representatives of the producers and distributors of foods and drinks, energy suppliers and other big names in the logistics sector – RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said: “It is our collective view that there has never been a more challenging time for this industry and we urge you to take these decisive steps to ensure that we can continue to maintain the UK’s integrated and finely balanced supply chains.”

Logistics UK’s Rona Hunnisett has urged shoppers not to panic buy, saying: “There is plenty of stock in the supply chain, in all the warehouses. And plenty of fresh homegrown produce.”

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