Published 11 Sep 2021
UK Faces Shortage Of 100,000 Truck Drivers
Due to a combination of Covid, Brexit and other factors, across UK, a slow-burning problem has ignited into a supply chain crisis in recent weeks as restaurants, supermarkets and food manufacturers warned customers that some popular products may be temporarily unavailable because of a shortage of truck drivers.
There is now a shortage of more than 100,000 drivers in the UK, out of a pre-pandemic total of about 600,000, a Road Haulage Association survey of its members estimates. That number included tens of thousands of drivers from EU member states who were living and working in the UK. Even before Covid, the estimated shortage was about 60,000 drivers.
What Are The Reasons?
Covid is certainly part of it. As travel became increasingly restricted last year, and large parts of the economy shut down, many European drivers went home. And haulage companies say very few have returned.
The pandemic has also created a large backlog in HGV driver tests, so it's been impossible to get enough new drivers up and running. Normally nearly 40,000 people a year pass tests to drive a lorry in Britain, but this fell by almost two-thirds last year at the height of the pandemic when many driving schools were closed for long stretches in an already aging industry.
A long-running shortage of truck drivers has been exacerbated by a post-Brexit exodus of European Union workers. And for years, the trucking industry has struggled to attract new workers to a job that has traditionally been low paid and required long, grueling hours.
Many drivers are paid by the mile or kilometre rather than by the hour, so delays cost them money. Also, the decline in the value of the pound against the euro since the Brexit vote has meant that being paid in pounds has been less attractive for EU nationals.
There have also been tax changes making it more expensive for drivers from elsewhere in Europe to work or be employed in the UK.
Hiring From Europe Is Not As Easy Now
Before Brexit, British trucking companies facing a staffing crunch could hire drivers from continental Europe at short notice. When Britain took the final step of leaving the European Union at the end of last year, it meant drivers from continental Europe could no longer be employed at short notice and with ease in Britain.
Similarly, Brexit has complicated the job for British drivers who make international journeys because of the new paperwork needed to take loads to countries including France, the Netherlands and Ireland.
And more roadblocks are coming when Britain phases in the introduction of checks on foods and other goods coming into the country from continental Europe later in the year (so far, these checks have been performed only on items exported to the European Union).
Disruption Hits The Supply Chain
UK manufacturers said shortages of raw materials and delivery delays disrupted production last month, leading to slower growth and a marked increase in costs. “Ninety-five percent of everything we get in Britain comes on the back of a truck,” said Rod McKenzie, the director of policy at Road Haulage Association, which represents the British road transport industry. It should come as no surprise, then, that the shortage of truck drivers in the UK creates shortages in many products.
A Bank of England report, covering April to June, also found that "transportation delays had resulted in shortages of some items, such as furniture, car parts and electrical goods". Severe shortages of materials for the construction sector, such as cement and timber, as well as problem for the manufacturing sector, were also highlighted.
Things have got worse, and there are now warnings from companies and hauliers that they can no longer guarantee all pick-ups and deliveries. Problems have been made more severe by retailers poaching their truck drivers with pay bonuses.
Experts Guess That It's Getting Worse Between Now And Christmas
McDonald’s milkshakes, Nando’s chicken, Haribo sweets and supermarket milk are among the items that have become scarce in Britain over the summer. There have been warnings also about fruit and vegetable deliveries because of driver shortages. But it goes far beyond food: Nearly every industry is complaining about delivery problems. And already organizations are warning that logistics issues could upend the arrival of Christmas toys and the trimmings crucial to family holiday meals.
Earlier in the summer, the German candy company Haribo said it was struggling to get its sweets into British shops. Arla, a large dairy producer, said it was having to skip up to a quarter of its deliveries. Last week, Nando’s, the popular restaurant chain, had to close about 50 of its restaurants because of a shortage of its famed peri-peri chicken. This week, Greggs, a grab-and-go coffee and lunch cafe, and Costa, a coffee chain, were the latest to suffer product shortages because of supply chain disruptions.
In some cases, the disruption has been worsened by staff shortages. A major British poultry producer, 2 Sisters Food Group, said Brexit had contributed to a 15 percent reduction in its work force this year. The British Meat Processors Association recently warned that companies were six weeks behind their Christmas production schedules, almost guaranteeing shortages of popular items over the holidays.
What Is Being Done About Shortages?
The haulage and logistics industries in Britain have pleaded with the government to ease restrictions on visas for EU drivers. Logistics U.K., a trade group, is asking the government to create 10,000 seasonal visas (similar to a program for farm workers) for drivers.
To ease the shortage, the government has slightly relaxed the Drivers' Hours rules, which means drivers will be able to increase their daily driving limit from nine hours to 11 hours twice a week. It has proposed initiatives to recruit new drivers, and told the sector to improve pay and conditions, but it has resisted pressure to ease visa rules for European truck drivers or to create seasonal visas.
The temporary extension to driver hours, which initially ran for four weeks until 8 August was then extended to 3 October. But it has been criticised as compromising safety standards and the industry says it will do little to ease the problems it is facing. A government spokesperson said longer journeys "must only be used where necessary and must not compromise driver safety."
Trucking Companies Have Failed To Attract Younger Workers
There is evidence of HGV driver shortages across Europe, but the UK has been among the hardest hit by the problem. Anyway the UK is not alone. The United States also faces a shortage of truck drivers, the crisis is similar in that it’s been years in the making, as trucking companies have failed to attract younger workers.
In Britain, the average age of a truck driver is nearly 50. Six years ago, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport said that just 2 percent of drivers were under the age of 25 and that by 2022, the industry would need 1.2 million more workers.
The shortfall, mirrored to a lesser degree in other countries like the United States and Germany, spells potential trouble on the inflation front. Truckers are a central cog in the global economy, carrying almost all our goods. If there aren't enough of them, it is likely to drive up prices.
Examples Of The Steps Being Taken By Companies
The demand on truck drivers has driven up wages: salaries for new drivers in Britain rose by 5.7% between February and July compared with a 0.8% increase across all types of jobs.
Tesco is offering drivers a £1,000 joining bonus. Aldi has increased wages for drivers. Waitrose has given its drivers a pay rise of around £2 an hour while new qualified drivers will receive a "welcome payment" of £1,000.
It is claimed that all actions taken so far are "just a sticking plaster over a gaping wound, not a solution to the problem". It is to be hoped that the British government will solve the problem of truck drivers as soon as possible.