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'We need to help haulage industry source, train and retain homegrown staff'

In his weekly Hayes in the House column, Sir John Hayes discusses staffing shortages in the haulage industry...

Road haulage is the lifeblood of Britain’s economy, transporting around the country what we need when and where we need it.

It is the vital logistical heartbeat that keeps shelves stacked and pantries stocked with all kinds of goods, as we take the presence of ample, available food for granted.

MP Sir John Hayes (49360206)
MP Sir John Hayes (49360206)

However, the haulage sector is facing huge challenges which threaten to interrupt the flow of foodstuffs to consumers.

In short, there are simply not enough lorry drivers. From years of work with haulage companies in Lincolnshire and from my time as a Minister, I know that the problem is deep rooted, but underlying issues have been worsened by recent changes.

The Road Haulage Association estimates there is now a shortage of more than 100,000 drivers in the UK, up from 60,000 pre-pandemic.

A ‘perfect storm’ of challenges facing the sector – Covid-19 pressures, the impact of Brexit and tax changes – have brought unprecedented challenges which threaten Britain’s national supply lines.

The problems are many, the solutions complex. However, a strategic plan to address both recent and long-standing problems in the sector must be found.

As a former Minister in several Government departments – particularly The Department for Transport - I know that the problem is much more significant than the hours drivers are permitted to work.

The longstanding failure to attract enough young people into the industry means that the rate of attrition, as people leave or retire, hasn’t been matched by recruitment.

The huge rise in the number of light goods vehicles, bringing goods ordered on line to homes, has drained the pool of potential recruits and with the average age of HGV drivers being 55, urgent work must be done to attract new applicants to pass the required test and so gain a licence.

Short-term solutions may provide some immediate relief, but emergency visa measures to allow more foreign drivers to come here and the extension of driver hours are sticking plasters not cures.

A sustainable solution means finding a way to source, train and retain homegrown staff for these key jobs.

That means making the job more attractive to more types of people. For instance - the number of women drivers is unlikely to increase unless roadside facilities are vastly improved.

A strategy which cuts across Government is needed. Given the all-encompassing economic significance of haulage this should be led by the Treasury.

Following consultation with the road haulage industry, having already written to the Transport Secretary, I met the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week to brief him on the scale of the crisis and what might be done to alleviate its effects.

Without urgent measures such as monetary grants to facilitate training, emergency licensing schemes to clear the backlog - caused by the pandemic - and a Government led recruitment drive, employers will continue to struggle.

The wealthy retail giants must do their bit too. As hauliers pay higher wages, those additional costs must be absorbed by the greedy supermarkets which have squeezed their suppliers dry for years.

The firms which hauliers run are essential to our wellbeing. Lincolnshire is proud to be the home of many nationally known haulage brands which serve the nation by channelling foodstuffs and other essential goods to villages, towns and cities all over the Kingdom.

The current problems are not of their making and they should not be left to struggle when Government can step in with focused measures informed by industry experience and expertise.

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