The Transport Secretary has failed to guarantee there will be enough lorries on the UK’s roads this Christmas to deliver all presents in time.
Grant Shapps told the Commons it was “not in the hands” of the Government to make the guarantee as he answered questions on the HGV staff shortage.
He also told MPs Brexit has nothing to do with the driver shortage, insisting the pandemic is the “number one cause” for the shortfall of 90,000 drivers across the nation.
In the Commons on Thursday, Labour MP Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) asked: “Can he (Mr Shapps) guarantee that there won’t be shortages and empty shelves at Christmas because of the shortage of HGV drivers?”
Mr Shapps replied: “What I can guarantee is we will do everything we possibly can to enable more HGV drivers to pass their tests to get on to the roads, to have better conditions, and the raft of other measures that we have discussed, but the whole solution is not in our hands, this is a global situation that has been described many times during this debate.”
He denied claims the UK has the largest shortage of drivers, saying: “That is not the case, we have seen the figures from Poland of a 120,000 shortage, for example, so it is a global problem that we will work day and night, every day that we can, to secure supply, but all the answers do not lie in the hands of the Government to do that.”
The Transport Secretary also told MPs: “I am not going to stand here and deny that there haven’t been big changes to the way our industry is operating but no-one can realistically deny that those problems had been coming along for a very long time. If there is a number one cause, it quite clearly is the pandemic.”
HGV driving tests
Mr Shapps said he announced to Parliament on Friday additional measures “which will significantly increase the number of HGV driving tests by up to 50,000 per year”.
He said: “First, we will eliminate the need for some car drivers who want to tow a trailer to take an additional test… allowing about 30,000 more HGV tests every single year.
“Second, tests will also be made more efficient by removing the reversing exercise element and vehicles with trailers. The uncoupling and recoupling exercise, having that test separately carried out by a third party so, it’s still being done.
“Third, we’re making it quicker to get a licence to drive an articulated vehicle without first having to get a licence for a smaller vehicle and this will make around 20,000 more HGV tests available every year.”
He added he had instructed the DVLA to prioritise the processing of licence applications, and made assurances that the Department of Health and Social Care has protected the supply chain for medical supplies.
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said the changes Mr Shapps announced were “far too little and far too late”.
Asking an urgent question on the issue, Mr McMahon said: “We’ve all seen constant examples of businesses impacted by supply chain disruption… we’ve all seen supermarket shelves empty and now it’s affecting the delivery of vital medical supplies.
“We’ve already seen the number of people wanting to do their HGV driving test literally fall off a cliff, with only 9,000 being completed in 2019, that was before Brexit and it was well before Covid.
“Industry’s been warning of this crisis for years but the secretary of state has been asleep at the wheel.”