Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has told UK businesses to harness British workers to tackle HGV driver shortages, despite calls from industry experts to allow foreign workers to fill the gaps.
Kwarteng said placing HGV drivers on the occupational shortage list, which allows foreign workers to work in certain sectors, would only be a “short-term” solution to the issues.
The Road Haulage Association estimates there is a shortfall of 100,000 HGV drivers which is causing supply chain disruptions across the country.
Kwarteng wrote to business leaders on Friday telling them to "utilise the strength of our domestic workforce". They should look to employ those facing an "uncertain future" once the furlough scheme comes to an end in September.
However Logistics UK said it can take nine months for new drivers to qualify. The trade body estimates over 25,000 HGV tests have been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Kwarteng said in his letter: “I am sure you would agree on the importance of utilising the strength of our domestic workforce and how our migration policies need to be considered alongside our strategies to ensure UK-based workers are better able to secure decent employment opportunities.”
A government spokesperson told Supply Management: “We’re working closely with industry to address sector challenges, which are similarly being faced by other countries around the world. This includes plans to streamline the process for new drivers to gain their HGV licence and to increase the number of driving tests able to be conducted.
“We want to see employers make long-term investments in the UK domestic workforce and make employment more attractive through offering training, careers options and wage increases.”
The UK has been facing food shortages across restaurants and supermarkets due to shortages in labour and HGV drivers.
Iceland managing director Richard Walker last week said Christmas stocks are being heavily threatened by the driver crisis, while Co-op chief executive Steve Murrells said shortages “are at a worse level than at any time I have seen”.
A cross-industry report from major food bodies including the Food and Drink Federation, British Meat Processors Association, Dairy UK and the British Frozen Food Federation said “fundamental labour shortages” are placing huge pressures on the sector, leading it to “breaking point”.
The report found an average vacancy rate of 13% across the businesses surveyed. It estimated there are currently 500,000 unfilled vacancies across the food and drinks sector.
Meanwhile, the US government has appointed a port envoy to the Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force, which was established in June to tackle disruptions to supplies caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
John Porcari, the former US deputy secretary of transportation under the Obama administration, will work with transport secretary Pete Buttigieg and the National Economic Council (NEC) to tackle congestion at US ports.
NEC director Brian Deese said: “The strength of the US economic recovery has tested the near-term capacity of our supply chains, and the administration is operating on all fronts to ease bottlenecks and facilitate the flow of goods across the country.
“Our country’s ports are the gateways for getting goods to market, which makes the appointment of John Porcari as ports envoy an especially important step forward in alleviating these disruptions that are impacting consumers, workers, and businesses alike.”
Containerised cargo volumes at ports rose 40% in the first half of this year compared to the same time last year. A Gallup survey in July found 60% of US adults said shortages had prevented them from buying a product in the previous two months.
☛ Want to stay up to date with the news? Sign up to our daily bulletin.