The ongoing driver shortage continues to pose a significant challenge in the UK. While there are also shortages of HGV drivers across Europe, the UK is among the worst affected. Now, as we approach Black Friday and the Christmas peak, many within the industry are warning of inevitable stock shortages.
What has caused the UK driver shortage?
Although there was a significant shortage of drivers (around 60,000) pre-pandemic, there is now an estimated shortage of 90,000 – with some suggesting this figure is actually upwards of 100,000.
The reduction in driver supply has been caused by a combination of:
- The COVID-19 pandemic
- Tax reforms (IR35)
- Driving test backlogs
- Poor pay and working conditions
There are further concerns that, with the average age of HGV drivers in the UK at 55, approximately one-third of the UK’s 380,000 drivers may retire in the next five years.
What’s more, during the pandemic, the shift to online shopping increased the demand for qualified drivers, which has added to the squeeze.
Warnings of empty shelves
With no ‘quick fix’ in sight, the ripple effects of the driver shortage are expected to worsen over the coming weeks, particularly as Black Friday and the Christmas peak approach. Gaps on shelves are predicted.
There have already been a number of high-profile shortages across the UK, including:
- Nando’s temporarily closing 50 sites due to supply chain problems
- McDonalds stopping the sales of milkshakes and bottled drinks, which was blamed on the driver shortage
- BP temporarily closing a number of sites due to the inability to deliver petrol and diesel
The Bank of England has also reported that transportation delays have resulted in shortages of items such as furniture, car parts, electrical goods and materials for the construction and manufacturing sectors.
What is being done to alleviate the driver shortage?
In July, the UK government announced a temporary extension to driver hours, which allows them to increase their daily limit from nine to 11 hours twice a week. Initially, this ran for four weeks until 8th August but it has since been extended to 3rd October 2021. The extension was met with mixed reactions, with some suggesting it compromises safety standards.
More recently, the government has said it plans to encourage more new drivers by freeing up 50,000 HGV tests slots. This will mean:
- Car drivers will no longer need to take a separate test to tow a trailer or caravan
- Tests will be made shorter through the removal of several elements, which will then be tested separately by a third party
- Drivers will be able to obtain a licence for an articulated vehicle without first getting one for a smaller vehicle
While the change has yet to be approved by parliament, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) has already raised concerns over the removal of test elements. Reversing, for example, will no longer be a part of the test.
The industry has once again asked for foreign drivers to be added to the Shortage Occupations list, which would mean they could qualify for a skilled worker visa. The government, however, has so far been reluctant to do so.
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