The UK government’s latest plans to keep supply chains moving in the lead up to Christmas have been slammed as using a “thimble of water to put out a bonfire”.
On Saturday the Department for Transport announced plans to allow temporary visas for 5,000 HGV drivers to help avert a Christmas supply chain crunch.
“This announcement is the equivalent of throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire,” said Ruby McGregor-Smith, president of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).
The BCC said the measures were insufficient to meet the scale of the problem and the Road Haulage Association (RHA) said the move “barely scratches the surface” of supply chain pressures.
However Logistics UK called the policy “a huge step forward in solving the disruption to supply chains”.
And Ian Wright, chief executive at The Food and Drink Federation, also welcomed the decision, describing it as “pragmatic”.
The lorry driver shortage was blamed for some petrol stations running out of fuel. The Petrol Retailers Association said on Sunday up to two-thirds of outlets were out of fuel after queues of motorists formed over the weekend.
On Monday environment secretary George Eustice said there was “plenty of petrol” and the shortages were being caused by panic buying.
Under the temporay visa scheme, drivers will be allowed to come to the UK for three months in the run-up to Christmas. A further 5,500 visas will be made available for poultry workers.
But the RHA said only offering visas until Christmas Eve would not be enough to make the UK and attractive destination for hauliers.
Supermarkets and fast food chains have been suffering in recent months from a shortage of lorry drivers.
The Department for Education said it would soon be making available up to 4,000 places on training courses to become HGV drivers.
And the Ministry of Defence is also to deploy its Defence Driving Examiners to add to testing capacity.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “Industries must also play their part with working conditions continuing to improve and the deserved salary increases continuing to be maintained in order for companies to retain new drivers.
“After a very difficult 18 months, I know how important this Christmas is for all of us and that’s why we’re taking these steps at the earliest opportunity to ensure preparations remain on track.”
Elizabeth de Jong, Logistics UK’s director of policy, said: “With fantastic HGV driving opportunities available in the logistics industry, now is the perfect time to consider returning to the occupation.
“Government has made clear its priority is to transition from a reliance on EU workers to a focus on the domestic workforce, and businesses have been ready to participate in this, but it is a long-term project.”
McGregor-Smith said the plan to transition away from a reliance on EU workers should have been thought through in more detail.
“A managed transition, with a plan agreed between government and business, should have been in place from the outset,” she said. “Instead, the supply of EU labour was turned off with no clear roadmap as to how this transition would be managed without disruption to services and supply chains.
“Even if these short-term opportunities attract the maximum amount of people allowed under the scheme, it will not be enough to address the scale of the problem that has now developed in our supply chains.”
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