Refuse services are overstretched in the UK. © Justin Lambert via Getty.
Refuse services are overstretched in the UK. © Justin Lambert via Getty.

How the HGV crisis is threatening bin and bus services

25 October 2021
Industry leaders are warning that the UK’s key public services – including bin collections and bus services – could now be impacted by the ongoing HGV driver shortage. 
Large numbers of bus drivers are quitting to take advantage of higher-paying jobs with supermarkets, food hauliers and online retailers, among others.
 
Figures from the Local Government Association (LGA) have revealed that more than half of councils in England have faced disruptions to bin collection services due to staff shortages. 
Bin lorry drivers earn on average around £25,000 a year, while this is in excess of £40,000 for drivers in the food sector.
 
Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association, which represents organisations in refuse collection and recycling, told The Guardian: “The shortage of heavy goods drivers is having a profound impact. If you’re a driver you can go to the highest bidder and that is often the supermarket hauliers. It’s driving up costs for everyone.”
 
The Environmental Services Agency (ESA) estimates there is currently a 15% vacancy rate for bin waste collection drivers, a situation which it warns could cause a “Christmas crisis”.
 
Jacob Hayler, executive director of the ESA, told The Guardian: “The UK is short of more than 100,000 HGV drivers, resulting in disrupted collections that will only come under greater pressure as we near Christmas, when waste volumes typically rise by 30%.”
 
In some areas, including Devon, driver shortages have risen to 20%. Councils in Devon as well as in Oxfordshire, Surrey and Cambridgeshire, have all had to suspend garden waste services as a result. 
 
Haringey Council in north London has recently warned that its waste collections may be delayed by up to 72 hours “due to the effects national HGV driver shortages [have] on our operations”.
 
In a bid to compete with supermarkets, Amey and Veolia, two of the largest council waste service contractors, have started offering £1,500 signing-on bonuses to attract drivers. 
 
But bus companies are also being priced-out, according to Unite the Union.
 
Bobby Morton, Unite’s national officer for passenger transport, told Sky News the shortage of bus drivers is being caused by drivers being offered wages of up to £20 an hour. Bus driver wages, meanwhile, stand at around £10 per hour.
 
Morton said: “A number of the things that lorry drivers share with bus drivers is very long hours, massive fatigue levels, lack of basic facilities such as toilet facilities and washing facilities.
 
“The mindset of the bus drivers at the moment is that, in the haulage industry, the employers threw money at the problem.
 
“They're saying that if we’ve got to work in these Victorian conditions, then we might as well get £20 an hour driving a lorry, as opposed to £10 an hour driving a bus. So the bus drivers are leaving in droves to go to other industries.”
 
Some companies have even been forced to cancel services following the shortage, including bus services in Derby, Stockton-on-Tees, Nottingham and Loughborough. 
 
The Confederation of Passenger Transport UK (CPT) estimates there are currently over 4,000 vacancies for bus and coach drivers across the country.

Industry leaders are warning that the UK’s key public services – including bin collections and bus services – could now be impacted by the ongoing HGV driver shortage

Large numbers of bus drivers are quitting to take advantage of higher-paying jobs with supermarkets, food hauliers and online retailers, among others. Figures from the Local Government Association (LGA) have revealed that more than half of councils in England have faced disruptions to bin collection services due to staff shortages. 

Bin lorry drivers earn on average around £25,000 a year, while this is in excess of £40,000 for drivers in the food sector. 

Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association, which represents organisations in refuse collection and recycling, told The Guardian: “The shortage of heavy goods drivers is having a profound impact. If you’re a driver you can go to the highest bidder and that is often the supermarket hauliers. It’s driving up costs for everyone.” 

The Environmental Services Agency (ESA) estimates there is currently a 15% vacancy rate for bin waste collection drivers, a situation which it warns could cause a “Christmas crisis”. 

Jacob Hayler, executive director of the ESA, told The Guardian: “The UK is short of more than 100,000 HGV drivers, resulting in disrupted collections that will only come under greater pressure as we near Christmas, when waste volumes typically rise by 30%.” 

In some areas, including Devon, driver shortages have risen to 20%. Councils in Devon as well as in Oxfordshire, Surrey and Cambridgeshire, have all had to suspend garden waste services as a result.  

Haringey Council in north London has recently warned that its waste collections may be delayed by up to 72 hours “due to the effects national HGV driver shortages [have] on our operations”. 

In a bid to compete with supermarkets, Amey and Veolia, two of the largest council waste service contractors, have started offering £1,500 signing-on bonuses to attract drivers. But bus companies are also being priced-out, according to Unite the Union. 

Bobby Morton, Unite’s national officer for passenger transport, told Sky News the shortage of bus drivers is being caused by drivers being offered wages of up to £20 an hour. Bus driver wages, meanwhile, stand at around £10 per hour. 

Morton said: “A number of the things that lorry drivers share with bus drivers is very long hours, massive fatigue levels, lack of basic facilities such as toilet facilities and washing facilities. The mindset of the bus drivers at the moment is that, in the haulage industry, the employers threw money at the problem. 

“They're saying that if we’ve got to work in these Victorian conditions, then we might as well get £20 an hour driving a lorry, as opposed to £10 an hour driving a bus. So the bus drivers are leaving in droves to go to other industries.” 

Some companies have even been forced to cancel services following the shortage, including bus services in Derby, Stockton-on-Tees, Nottingham and Loughborough.  

The Confederation of Passenger Transport UK (CPT) estimates there are currently over 4,000 vacancies for bus and coach drivers across the country.

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