Some supermarkets have struggled with fresh food deliveries © Matthew Horwood/Getty Images
Some supermarkets have struggled with fresh food deliveries © Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

HGV driver crisis and 'pingdemic' combine to hit supply chains

22 July 2021

Industry bodies have described government commitments to tackle the HGV driver crisis “dispiriting” as the situation combines with the pingdemic to threaten supply chains.

In an open letter published on Twitter transport secretary Grant Shapps announced ministers would work with industry leaders to attract new drivers and simplify training. 

However, Logistics UK and the Road Haulage Association (RHA) criticised the letter, with Logistics UK claiming it was “simply a letter of intent”.

Meanwhile, the government has announced an exemption for the food supply chain that means workers at supermarket depots and key manufacturers will only need to perform daily testing, and not isolate, if they get pinged by the Test and Trace app. The move covers around 10,000 workers at 500 sites, including 170 distribution depots.

Concerning the HGV measures, Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at Logistics UK, said: “The plans revealed by the government only go part of the way to addressing the crucial problem areas that the industry has been talking with government about for years.”

She continued: “After all the incredibly hard work to keep the country stocked with all that it needed throughout the pandemic, it is dispiriting to see that the safety and security of our workforce in the course of doing their jobs is still not being prioritised.

“It is good to see the urgent focus placed by government on increased HGV driver testing with DVSA, as this is currently the biggest blocker to new entrants entering the workforce, but without targets and a workable timeline, this is simply a statement of intent.” 

De Jong said there was a backlog of 25,000 HGV driver tests, which at current rates would take 27 weeks to resolve, meaning the backlog will not be cleared until January 2022. 

Richard Burnett, RHA chief executive, welcomed the letter but said it did not address the immediate issues being faced by the logistics industry. 

“This is a step in the right direction long-term, but it doesn’t address the critical short-term issues we’re facing,” Burnett said. 

“The problem is immediate, and we need to have access to drivers from overseas on short-term visas. The idea to simplify training and speed up testing is welcome; along with encouraging recruitment it will only improve things in a year or two’s time.”

In the letter Shapps thanked the logistics sector for providing a “vital service” throughout the pandemic. 

“The driver shortage is well documented and its impacts on the wider economy are becoming more evident,” he said. 

The letter comes as BP said lorry driver shortages were causing temporary fuel supply issues at some of its petrol stations. 

The oil firm said shortages of unleaded petrol and diesel had forced various UK sites to temporarily close. 

Driver shortages and the “pingdemic” are seriously threatening UK food supplies, supermarkets have said. 

Sainsbury's warned of shortages of fresh salad and vegetables, and the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers said customers should expect shortages of meat come Christmas due to a shortage of workers across the meat industry. 

Professor Richard Wilding, professor of supply chain strategy at Cranfield School of Management, said organisations planned for a 3% absentee rate, but current absentee levels were “much higher and causing significant problems” due to workers being told to self isolate by the Track and Trace app. 

He said: “With no end in sight of the pingdemic, organisations will have to plan and prioritise operations to take into account a reduced workforce, possibly over a sustained period. This could include reducing the number of shifts operated, focusing on the essentials, focusing only on high profit margin products and services to maximise revenue with the limited resource available and, in the worst case, shutting down parts of operations.  

“Supply chains will never return to the old normal and the impact on our society will continue as we move into the new normal,” he said.

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