UK Driver Shortage: What now?

It’s been 9 months since the start of the UK driver shortage which saw fuel supplies plummet, supermarket store shelves empty, and an excessive backlog of parcels clogging up our postal services. Although it might seem to the wider public that this issue came as a blindsight, the truth is that external factors such as Brexit and the national lockdowns caused by Covid-19, have all had a devastating impact on the transport sector.

From the beginning of the UK pandemic in March 2020, thousands of foreign drivers left the country to be at home with their families during lockdown. However, as the UK’s lockdown restrictions lifted, so did those in the EU, which saw payrates align with the UK and therefore give drivers no reason to return as they had the same prospects of earning equal pay oversees as they did at home. It has since been estimated that of the 14,000 HGV drivers who left the UK, only 600 returned after lockdown ended.

Additionally, the introduction of tighter restrictions for European workers to drive into Britain, meant those wanting to return found it much more challenging, thus, yet again adding to our driver shortage. As a result, it’s predicted that the UK needs an additional 60,000 drivers to be able to meet our current haulage demands (RHA, 2021).

Whilst the fuel shortage was at the time the most seemingly pressing issue, (the head of UK retail at oil company BP, stated that the situation looked “bad, very bad” (Mirror, 2021)), it would appear the UK public have all but forgotten about it, perhaps relieved by the end of the petrol shortage or desensitized from what has been a hard couple years of concerning media headlines.

Whatever the answer, there is still one big question that remains. Where does this leave us now?

The Logistics UK Skills Report 2021 has revealed that steps are now being taken to address the driver shortage concerns, with a big focus being put on recruiting new drivers and working alongside the government to improve current driver conditions such as wage increases and better roadside facilities.

Key points to be made by the report, as highlighted by Logistics UK’s Director of Policy Elizabeth de Jong are:

  • The average driver pay has surged by 10% within the 9 months since the start of the shortage
  • HGV driver tests have increased by 25.6%
  • We have seen a three-fold increase in applications for vocational provisional licenses
  • The number of HGV drivers ‘fell 44,000 in the third quarter of 2021 compared with the same time in 2019, leaving the workforce 14% smaller’ than it was pre-pandemic.
  • The previous point is an improvement on the fall of 72,000 (23.4%) in the second quarter

What these figures mean is that, although only acute, we are ‘beginning to see those little green shoots that we couldn’t see before’ (Elizabeth de Jong).

Other stats worth mentioning are the £32.5 million the government plans on investing into the improvement of roadside facilities, a 90% increase in the number of HGV driving tests compared to pre-covid, an investment of £34 million to create new HGV Skills Bootcamps to train over 11,000 new drivers, and the 4,700 HGV drivers added to the existing visa scheme in order to help the food industry with their driver shortage. Although only early days, what we hope to see here is an improved relationship between the government and the transport industry in order to see these improvements implemented, and hopefully a prosperous return on investment (ROI).

It is evident that the way forward now is for the government to uphold it’s promises and attract new HGV drivers to the industry through pay increases, better facilities and a continued progress on training. In the meantime, we may continue to see reduced ranges at online retailers and longer delivery times, especially over the oncoming Christmas period (James Davey, 2021). There is still much to be done, but all efforts now should be made towards not furthering exacerbating the existing disruption to supply chains and promoting the transport industry as a more inclusive and appealing place to work.