Businesses could turn to prisoners on day release to plug the UK’s increasingly worrying lorry driver shortage.
According to industry figures, a shortfall of 90,000 lorry drivers is placing “unsustainable” pressure on supply chains, with Ministers rejecting pleas to let EU migrants in to help ease the strain.
The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers will reportedly meet with HM Prison Service this week to ask it to prioritise food suppliers with its Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) scheme.
It comes as high street chain Nando’s was forced to shut 45 restaurants amid a chicken shortage.
Signs in restaurant windows blamed a shortage of stock from suppliers for the closures, an issue that was raised with the government “many weeks ago”, according to a poultry industry source.
The Government has been adamant that companies should invest in domestic labour as they try to navigate the shortage.
But haulage firms and logistics experts have expressed serious doubts about this approach, claiming it is highly unlikely the situation will improve this side of Christmas.
They have pointed to the cost of training – around £3,500 – and the amount of time needed to complete it, as well as the backlog in processing licences, saying the situation will almost certainly worsen in the coming months if the UK does not allow EU workers back in to plug the gaps.
The demand from Logistics UK echoes similar pleas from fellow industry bodies, the Road Haulage Association and the British Retail Consortium, to bring back EU drivers.
Logistics UK spokesman Alex Veitch said: “The industry is working hard to recruit new drivers, with the implementation of new apprenticeships and other training schemes and working with DVSA to speed up its testing regime, but these measures will take some time to produce new drivers.
“Our industry needs drivers now, and we are urging Government to replicate its temporary visa scheme, introduced for agricultural workers, for logistics to keep trucks and vans moving in the short term.”
This year the Government’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme permitted up to 30,000 overseas individuals to come to the UK on temporary visas to do farm work for up to six months.
The Home Office said in a statement: “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.”