HGV driver shortage ‘could spell catastrophe’

HGV driver shortage ‘could spell catastrophe’

Food industry bodies, including representatives of the meat business, have been calling on the UK Government to address the lack of available drivers.

“Between Brexit crippling recruitment from the EU, IR35 tax changes leading many drivers to leave the industry, and a growing backlog of driving tests caused by the pandemic, this continued disruption could spell catastrophe for businesses after one of the most difficult years on record.”

the words of Rob Wright, executive director at SCALA, sum up the growing concern over staff shortages in both food transport and production.

Nick Allen, CEO of the British Meat Processors Association, was among the signatories of a recent letter to the Prime Minister, calling for Boris Johnson’s ‘personal intervention to help resolve the significant and rapidly deteriorating shortage of HGV drivers’.

Led by Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association (RHA), the letter told the Government that critical supply chains were failing due to the effects of Covid-19, Brexit, retiring drivers, driving test shortages and the new IR35 tax regulations.

RHA estimates the shortfall of drivers has now reached around 70,000. It predicts that shoppers will see increased costs passed on to them and has suggested a 12-point plan for the sector that includes a seasonal visa scheme for qualified HGV drivers, priority driving tests and improvements to the road network.

Nick Allen of BMPA has also commented on the general shortage of labour in meat production, telling Meat Management that the Government should take a more granular approach to the furlough system to address gaps in the workforce.

He recently told ITV News that members would soon need to cut production due to worker shortages, which would affect the availability and cost of meat.

“Consumers won’t be able to get all that they want, whether it be in shops or restaurants,” Allen said. “We’re not going to run out of food completely but they’re not going to be able to get the choice and they’re probably going to have to pay more for food.

“The Government don’t seem to be acknowledging there is a problem and talking to us about the solutions.”

“Demands for support must be heard”

Rob Wright of SCALA has warned of the driver shortage: “If this continues, it is not just businesses that will feel the brunt, with consumers also potentially being affected. If products cannot get to stores, on-shelf availability naturally decreases and, with this limited supply, the price of goods could be drastically inflated. Supermarkets and wholesalers also face having less flexibility to meet spikes in demand, and may need to cap volumes of their products.

“To combat these driver shortages, the government must provide the much-needed support that the industry has been demanding for so long. The government must provide monetary grants to support the industry, amend immigration policy to place drivers on the shortage occupations list and significantly increase the availability of HGV driver tests after the blockage created by the coronavirus lockdowns.

“Simply enough, the industry’s demands for support must be heard and actioned upon, or this crisis could get much worse.”

Retailer warning

Online retailer, Approved Food is calling for further support for the industry to recruit drivers, who are in demand following the impact of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, but also wants supermarkets to engage with more food redistributors to prevent waste.

It has been widely reported that Tesco suppliers are binning almost 50 tonnes of fresh food every week because of too few HGV drivers being available to transport it to stores.

The pandemic, coupled with the effects of the Brexit transition on the availability of foreign workers, means drivers are in demand at a challenging time for the food sector.

Andy Needham, MD at Approved Food, added: “Lockdown and Brexit have amplified the challenges that already existed in the logistics sector, and these have now reached critical levels.

“There were already issues surrounding attracting younger workers to the industry, competition from warehouse jobs and a skills gap caused in part by the expense of training HGV drivers.

“With the restrictions now in place dictating how firms can recruit from Europe, there needs to be more incentive and training for people living in the UK to want to work as drivers to help both the foodservice and logistics industry get back to where they once were.”

  • There will be an in-depth exploration of the labour shortage crisis in the upcoming July/August issue of Food Management Today.

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