Author: Debora Aru & Sam Elliott-Gibbs
The HGV driver shortage has seen vacancies jump by nearly a third across the UK compared to pre-pandemic levels, new data shows.
Amid concerns about deliveries of food and fuel, the government is introducing temporary visas for 5,000 fuel tanker and food lorry drivers to work in the UK in the run-up to Christmas.
It comes as the army has begun helping to deliver fuel to petrol stations as shortages continue, as around 200 military personnel have been deployed.
While the Road Haulage Association, the industry’s trade body, estimates a shortage of 100,000 drivers across the UK, exclusive figures from Recruitment and Employment Confederation have revealed what areas are more affected by the shortage.
Overall, the number of vacancies in the UK have increased by nearly a third compared to before the pandemic, from 5,500 in February 2020 to 7,200 this August.
Among the areas in the UK with at least 50 vacancies in August, Norfolk saw the largest increase, with figures going up more than three times, from 17 to 59.
In Wales, the number of jobs posted nearly tripled over the period from 196 to 567.
Central Bedfordshire followed with a similar increase, from 30 vacancies in February to 79 in August while in Cumbria, figures went up from 21 to 54.
In contrast, areas like North Yorkshire or Hertfordshire saw a decrease in the number of vacancies for HGV drivers.
Adverts went down by more than a third in North Yorkshire, from 84 to 54 and by nearly a fifth, 19%, in Hertfordshire.
Vacancies also decreased in Buckinghamshire, from 59 to 52 and in Leeds, from 117 to 111.
The national crisis started in the summer, when supermarkets began to experience empty shelves – partly due to a shortage of lorry drivers.
Then in September, BP warned it would have to temporarily close some of its petrol stations, because of a lack of lorry drivers to actually transport fuel to the pumps.
Following that announcement, long queues started to appear outside petrol stations across Great Britain, amid fears that petrol might run out.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that nationally, around 313,000 people in the UK worked as HGV drivers in the last quarter of 2019.
That went down by 11% to 278,218 in the last quarter of 2020.
According to the government, a backlog of HGV driving tests not taking place because of the coronavirus pandemic and an ageing workforce going into retirement are among the causes for the lack of lorry drivers.
Figures from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency show 23,997 tests took place in the financial year 2020/21, down 66% from the 70,288 tests taken in 2019/20.
The impact of coronavirus and a lack of long-term investment in the UK’s domestic workforce – with a reliance on overseas labour – are also partly to blame for the shortage.
Both the pandemic and Brexit saw many European drivers return home – and haulage companies say very few have returned, with new immigration rules a factor.
A recent ONS survey shows almost half of the transport and storage businesses that were experiencing recruitment challenges (46%) mentioned the reduced number of EU applicants as a factor – the highest of any sector.
While the government has offered an emergency visa scheme to help alleviate the problem – which will allow firms to recruit fuel tanker drivers from overseas up to March 2022 – the Times reported, as of Tuesday (October 5), only 27 had applied, although thePrime Minister later said the number was 127.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Everyone who works for a living deserves to earn a decent living.
“But wages and conditions in sectors like logistics have been driven down for years.
“That isn’t the fault of migrant workers – it’s the fault of a flawed economic model which relies on holding down workers’ rights and pay.
“Short-term visas are an inadequate sticking plaster. If we want to end this supply chain chaos, the government must give workers and their unions more bargaining power to negotiate better pay and conditions.