The haulage industry has urged Boris Johnson to step up “lacklustre” efforts to tackle a shortage of 100,000 HGV drivers, telling him to act now on supply chains or face a Christmas crisis.
Bosses of multiple trade bodies and businesses in the trucking and food industries have written to the prime minister saying not enough had been done to resolve the crisis and urging him to intervene personally.
They said measures intended to plug the gap, including a temporary three-month visa for HGV drivers, “simply do not go far enough to tackle the crisis and protect the UK economy in the months ahead”.
“Without further action, this will only get worse, particularly as we begin the countdown to Christmas,” they added.
A lack of qualified HGV drivers has been cited as a factor in last month’s petrol shortages and interruptions to supermarket supply chains, as well as prompting warnings of major disruption at Christmas, such as bins not being collected.
In the letter, coordinated by the Road Haulage Association (RHA), bosses called for three immediate measures to address the issue.
They said HGV drivers should be added to the government’s “shortage occupation list”, which makes it easier for skilled workers to obtain visas.
They also called on Johnson to extend and reform the drivers’ qualification known as the Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC), encouraging experienced and retired drivers to immediately return to work.
The signatories include the boss of trucking firm Eddie Stobart and trade bodies in food, haulage and fuel. They also want ministers to convene a taskforce that would allow the haulage industry and government to collaborate in addressing the driver shortage.
The deficit of HGV drivers had increased from 60,000 before the pandemic to 100,000, the letter said, citing factors including Covid-19 and EU nationals leaving the UK.
Limited apprenticeships and an ageing workforce were also among the causes, they said, adding that the industry was also aware of the need to improve pay and conditions.
But they said the government must do more than offer temporary visas to EU hauliers, predicting that “relying on international drivers is not a long-term solution”.
“We urge you to act urgently and decisively or risk further damage to not only our businesses and livelihoods, but the UK’s integrated and finely balanced supply chains.
“Put simply, we will not be able to build back better and recover from the pandemic without a thriving haulage industry and we urge you to take the necessary action to ensure that we can continue to play our essential role underpinning the UK economy, both now and in the future.”
A government spokesperson said: “We took immediate action to increase the supply of HGV drivers, streamlining the testing process and introducing short term visas.
“This is a global problem and we have been working closely with industry for months to understand how we can boost recruitment. However, we also want to see long-term solutions delivered by employers through improved testing and hiring, with better pay and working conditions.”