Government tells employers to invest in domestic workforce.
Ministers have rejected industry calls to allow EU citizens to fill the hole in the UK labour market for lorry drivers, but accept that more training courses are needed to boost the number of hauliers.
The government rebuffed yesterday a plea by logistics and retail trade bodies for temporary work visas to be granted to heavy goods vehicle drivers from the EU, although ministers are willing to look at increasing training of Britons wanting to be hauliers. It came as the meat industry said it was preparing to respond to labour shortages in its sector by making greater use of prisoners.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, has welcomed incentives being offered by companies to newly recruited lorry drivers, including signing-on bonuses and higher pay. “That’s a positive thing,” said one ally of Kwarteng.
In a letter to Kwarteng, trade bodies Logistics UK and British Retail Consortium estimated that there was a shortfall of about 90,000 HGV drivers that was placing “increasingly unsustainable pressure on retailers and their supply chains”.
They wrote: “The impact of the driver shortage is already being felt, with many businesses struggling to get goods into distribution centres and depots and – in some cases – into shops, with ramifications for consumer choice.”
They added that the situation was likely to worsen as demand for goods increased because of the start of the new school year, employees returning to their workplaces and the build-up to Christmas.
Logistics UK and the BRC said EU citizens could supplement British HGV drivers in the short term.
An estimated 25,000 EU drivers returned home during the coronavirus pandemic and following the end of the Brexit transition period, according to the trade bodies.
They also said government skills and training schemes – including the company-funded apprenticeship levy – had to support HGV driver recruitment.
The trade bodies said additional staff were needed at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency to deal with a backlog of testing of people wanting to be HGV drivers.
The letter to Kwarteng said the logistics and retail industries could not afford the inflationary pressures they were experiencing. One medium-sized logistics company had so far invested £1.5m “just to retain their existing drivers”, while a retailer was reporting an extra £2.3m in costs since April due to driver shortages “as they have already had to increase pay twice to retain drivers”, added the letter.twice to retain drivers”, added the letter.
But the government rejected the case for providing temporary visas for EU truck drivers, saying: “The British people repeatedly voted to end free movement and take back control of our immigration system and employers should invest in our domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad.
“We recently announced a package of measures to help tackle the HGV driver shortage, including plans to streamline the process for new drivers to gain their HGV licence and to increase the number of tests able to be conducted.”
The government has also temporarily relaxed rules on HGV drivers’ working hours so that they can make slightly longer journeys.
Meanwhile, the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers, which represents butchers, abattoirs and meat processors, will this week urge HM Prison Service to prioritise food suppliers under a scheme that allows prisoners to work on temporary day release.
Tony Goodger at the association said members all over the country were experiencing labour shortages, noting the meat and poultry processing industry as a whole had 14,000 vacancies.