A House of Commons Transport Select Committee report appears to show that the government was warned about the threat of a driver shortage in 2016 – just months after the vote to Leave the EU was cast.
The Committee warned that if the UK became a less attractive place for foreign drivers it could rapidly exacerbate the driver shortage problem, leading to serious repercussions in the long-term.
“The driver shortage has resulted in a dependence on agency and particularly foreign drivers that goes beyond what is needed to cope with seasonal variations and is now necessary to sustain normal operation,” it states.
“The dependence on agency staff means that operators in the sector are probably not investing enough in their staff.
“We think this creates two risks that need to be managed. First, if the UK becomes relatively less attractive as a place for foreign drivers to work [a risk post-Brexit], the shortage could become much more acute, possibly quite rapidly.
“Secondly, the longer-term sustainability of the UK’s road haulage sector could be undermined if there is not a steady stream of people through the sector gaining the skills and experience that they need to become transport managers and operators.”
Not a skills issue
The report also says the driver shortage is not down to a lack of skills but due to a scarcity of people willing to work in the sector.
The Committee’s report says: “A number of factors make the job less attractive than it was. It is imperative the industry takes steps to improve the terms and conditions so it can recruit and retain the drivers it needs.
“The industry will need to invest more in recruitment, training and driver welfare following years of under-investment. We acknowledge that this is challenging for many of the smaller operators, especially given the very tight margins operators face.”
The report also called on industry to address the inadequate facilities provided currently for drivers and promote the sector better in schools and colleges.
“We are also concerned about the terms and conditions under which some agency drivers are required to work,” says the report.
It was reported at the start of this week that the prime minister is said to be considering whether to call in soldiers to deliver fuel to petrol stations as pumps ran dry after days of panic buying.
Emergency measures were triggered on Sunday evening, with business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng choosing to suspend competition laws for the fuel industry to allow suppliers to target filling stations running low.
Multiple reports suggested that Boris Johnson on Monday will mull whether to follow that by taking the drastic step of sending in the Army to drive oil tankers as “frenzied buying” added to fuel supply issues caused by a lack of HGV drivers.