The HGV driver shortage is likely to last for a year, threatening continued supply chain disruption and shortages, a government committee has heard.
Industry leaders speaking at a meeting of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee outlined ongoing issues relating to lorry drivers, empty supermarket shelves and staff shortages.
Duncan Buchanan, policy director of the Road Haulage Association (RHA,) said its members had reported “things are not visibly getting better” in relation to shortages and delays. He added measures being put in place, such as stepping up training and tests for drivers, were not yet making an impact.
“Visually, on the ground, that is not really having much of an effect,” said Buchanan, adding the government’s temporary visa scheme for foreign workers would not help alleviate supply chain issues in the run-up to Christmas.
“A lot of the things that the government has done, which we very much welcome, are not having an immediate effect just yet because they’re coming in over a period of time,” he said.
When asked how long it would be before the benefits of such measures would be seen, Buchanan said: “We think it’s going to be a year to recover from where we are at the moment.”
He added: “We don’t actually have a food shortage, we have supply chain disruption, that doesn’t mean we’re going to run out of food, or that we’re going to run out of anything in particular. There are challenges, and serious challenges but to be fair most of those fall on business rather than consumers.”
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show the number of people working as HGV drivers in the UK has fallen by 53,000 (16.5%) in four years, from 321,000 in 2017 to 268,000 in 2021.
The number of UK nationals working in the sector fell by 42,000 people over the same period – a 15% drop.
Food and Drink Federation chief executive Ian Wright acknowledged there had been some shortages but said that consumers did not need to worry.
“We’re not going to run out of food,” he told MPs. “Big red letters. Double underlined.”
However, he warned the committee to take note of the “terrifying” inflation rises in some parts of the sector.
“In hospitably, which is a precursor of retail, inflation is currently running somewhere between 14% and 18% – that is terrifying,” said Wright.
Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said its surveys showed there was strong demand “across the board” in most sectors of the job market, which was spiking wages, and firms were taking longer to fill vacancies.
“This is a global issue caused by a misallocation of resources caused by the pandemic which is being amplified by the new trading arrangements that we’re working under, and will take a little longer to work out in the UK than other countries,” said Carberry.
The government recently announced plans to relax “cabotage” rules in a bid to ease driver shortages, which will allow international HGV drivers greater freedom to pick up and deliver goods across the UK.
The announcement was made after the country witnessed huge bottlenecks at the UK’s biggest container port Felixstowe due to the shortage of drivers.
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