Immigration rules should be relaxed for HGV drivers to help ease disruption to bin collection services across the UK, some councils have said.
Three local authorities in Devon have written to Priti Patel to express their concern about the “deficit” of staff in waste and recycling divisions across the country.
It comes following an apparent exodus of drivers from EU countries, who returned to the continent during the coronavirus pandemic and remained there.
The pandemic has also brought DVLA testing centres to a standstill, creating a huge backlog of drivers waiting to take their HGV test, it is said.
Councillors Steve Darling, David Worden and Alistair Dewhirst said in the letter to the Home Secretary: “At the time of writing, North Devon Council are attempting to fill seven vacancies, Torbay Council eight vacancies, and Teignbridge Council 10 vacancies.
“This equates to approximately 20% of the HGV workforce in driver vacancies and it is proving very challenging to fill this resourcing gap given the dynamics of this labour market.”
The letter said councils are developing academies to train HGV drivers as well as trying to retain staff by offering extra pay.
It added: “We therefore believe that HGV drivers should be recognised as an important shortage occupation with a two-year derogation to the points-based immigration rules for trained HGV drivers – allowing councils, as well as others across the economy, sufficient access to a wider pool of drivers while we recruit and train the next generation of HGV drivers.”
At least 18 councils across the UK are said to be experiencing similar delays.
It comes as Basildon Council warned residents in Laindon, Essex, that pink sack rubbish collection had been suspended due to “operational issues”.
People were advised to take their rubbish indoors “until further notice”.
Mr Darling, leader of Torbay District Council, told BBC Breakfast on Friday: “We’re asking if the Government can put a waiver in place to allow EU drivers to come in to play in the market for HGV drivers.”
Asked about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, he added: “It’s a lethal cocktail, there have been delays in many people having their HGV tests because of the stopping of that.”
Councillor Philip Bialyk, leader of Exeter City Council, also warned of the “possibility” of delays to collection services in the area.
Waste company Biffa said the effects of the national HGV driver shortage “have been widely felt” across the sector but it is “working hard to recruit new drivers”.
Government officials are working closely with the DVLA to increase the number of tests taking place and have vowed to streamline the process.
They have also increased funding for apprentices to get more workers into the industry but want to ensure the UK is less reliant on overseas drivers.
A Local Government Association spokesperson said: “While most councils have been able to keep services running, some are having to reduce services such as green waste collection.
“These issues are partly due to the problems with a shortage of HGV drivers, which are affecting other parts of the economy as well.”