Action is needed to 'avoid our favourite tipples disappearing' © Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images
Action is needed to 'avoid our favourite tipples disappearing' © Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

Warning over booze supply despite shrinking HGV driver shortage

posted by Marino Donati and Juliette Rowsell
25 November 2021

The UK lorry driver shortage has shrunk by 15,000 but the drinks industry is warning the situation could still lead to Christmas shortages.

Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), said there was “mounting concern” over the impact of HGV driver shortages as businesses gear up for Christmas. 

The WSTA has written to transport secretary Grant Shapps warning costs have increased by 7% due to driver shortages. The letter said action was needed “to avoid some of our favourite tipples from disappearing from the UK supermarket shelves”.

The trade group, which comprises of 48 wine and spirits businesses including Laithwaites, Sipsmith and Moet Hennessy, said delivery times had increased from 2-3 days to up to 15.

Beale said: “There is mounting concern amongst our membership that unless urgent action is taken, we will fall deeper into delivery chaos.

“We are already seeing major delays on wine and spirit delivery times which is pushing up costs and limiting the range of products available to UK consumers. Government needs to be doing all it can to ensure British business is not operating with one hand tied behind its back over the festive season and beyond.” 

Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, told the House of Commons Transport Select Committee suppliers were “scaling back” plans to deliver products over the Christmas period.

Brennan said: “People are making decisions about what they think is achievable so there’s quite a lot of scaling back of the amount of work we’re trying to do, particularly around Christmas.

“There’s quite a lot of scaling back of the ambition of that to try and deliver what we absolutely can.”

Figures from the Road Haulage Association (RHA) show the 100,000 driver shortage has shrunk following government action to tackle the issue.

RHA policy director Duncan Buchanan told the committee: “Since April there’s been a real uptick in the throughput of people taking and passing tests. We reckon the shortage has probably fallen by about 15,000 and much of that is to do with improved test performance and improved retention. That’s substantial over six months.”

He added: “It’s not all doom and gloom.”

Logistics UK policy director Elizabeth de Jong said the latest figures showed the number of applications for provisional lorry driver licences has gone up by 300%, and there was a 25% increase in vocational renewal licence applications. 

“We are seeing some hope for the future coming through,” she said.

However, despite the government’s recent Budget announcement of £32.5 million funding for existing driver facilities, the committee heard how more investment was needed.

“We’re saying thank you for that but we know that it’s more facilities that are needed,” said de Jong.

Brennan said: “The money is good, but it’s a drop in the ocean of what we actually need for strategic investment both in the private sector and the public space around logistics facilities for the next 20 years.” 

A report by training provider Driver Require found driver numbers in the UK rose 40% in the third quarter compared to quarter two.

Kieran Smith, CEO at Driver Require, said: “We are hopeful that we have turned a corner and that the UK's HGV driver shortage crisis is diminishing. 

“We are encouraged that government initiatives to increase HGV training capacity are showing signs of success and hope that this will continue.”

Despite the progress, it warned the sector still had issues retaining drivers. 

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