Cabotage rule change an 'accident waiting to happen'

10 January 2022

A failure to monitor changes to HGV cabotage rules means the UK government is playing “Russian roulette” with UK drivers, according to Unite the Union. 

​​Cabotage rules were changed to ease a shortage of drivers and supply chain disruption, allowing international companies to send lorries with foreign drivers to the UK to make unlimited deliveries in a 14-day period.

However, Unite says the Department for Transport (DfT) is failing to monitor how many companies are making use of the new cabotage rules, so it's not known how many drivers may be working unsafe hours.

Following a freedom of information request, the DfT was unable to tell the union how many lorries had used the policy, where such drivers have come from and how many have stayed in the UK beyond the two-week period.

The DfT said in its response to Unite “there is no mechanism or register available” for cabotage data because it is “commercial data held by operators based outside the UK”.

The government said the last available data on the amount of cabotage being undertaken by foreign vehicles within the UK was from 2019. 

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said: “This is sheer incompetence by the government, which is playing Russian roulette with British road users. 

“It introduced this knee-jerk reaction to the lorry driver crisis last year, now they tell us they don’t know how many foreign lorry drivers have come, how many hours they work when they are here, and if they go home after the 14-day working period. It’s literally an accident waiting to happen, based on the illegal super-exploitation of these drivers.”

Unite claimed without sufficient government monitoring of how many lorries are entering and leaving the UK, the only way to check if drivers are complying with UK rules on vehicle standards and driving regulations was through on-the-spot inspections.

However, Unite said a separate FOI request found such inspections were “vanishingly rare” and the number of on-the-spot inspections had declined by 39% since 2016.

Adrian Jones, Unite national officer for road haulage, said: “Not only is the government clueless about how many foreign lorries are currently on UK roads, but the only on-the-spot inspections to ensure these vehicles are roadworthy and driving regulations are being observed are as rare as hens' teeth.

“Rather than allowing foreign lorries unlimited access to the UK to tackle driver shortages, the government should be tackling the root causes of the driver crisis – low pay, long hours and the lack of decent parking and welfare facilities for drivers.”

A spokesperson from the DfT told Supply Management: “The temporary, additional cabotage rules are one of 32 measures taken which are working to alleviate the effects of the global lorry driver shortage in the UK.

“The department is monitoring the overall uptake of the additional cabotage rules and early indications are that they have been successful in assisting the resilience of supply chains, including providing key connections to ports.” 

Cabotage rules previously only allowed international drivers to make two cabotage journeys within seven days of entry into the UK. The changes were made to help tackle the UK’s HGV driver crisis, which threatened UK supermarkets and fuel supplies.

Meanwhile, the government has now offered contracts worth £34.5m to companies to help train new lorry drivers, according to government data analysts Tussell

The money is being used to fund the government’s HGV skills bootcamp which trains new drivers into the industry and provides drivers with job opportunities following the course. 

The Department for Education awarded 21 contracts in November 2021 as part of the scheme, with a total value of £33.9m.

The investment amounts to more than the government has spent on HGV driver training over the previous eight years combined, with only three contracts awarded to HGV driving training services in 2020 with a collective value of £62,500. 

The largest contract was awarded by the DfE in November 2021 to HGV Training Services Limited for £6.3m.

The HGV skills bootcamp will run until November 2022, and is expected to provide training for up to 11,000 drivers.

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