Freight News, Road, Logistics

Ministers in a flap over truck driver shortage

[ October 29, 2021   //   ]

Government ministers are “panic flip-flopping” on the recruitment of drivers from Europe on short-term visas and the cabotage according to Stuart Charter, managing director of Aztek Logistics, part of the Pallet-Track network.

He said the government’s thinking is muddled when it comes to solving the short and long-term HGV driver shortage. “Firstly, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng ruled out temporary visas for EU drivers to pick up the immediate slack, presumably on ideological rather than practical grounds, but now they are desperate to get them over on short-term visas, which will do little to incentivise them.

“Secondly, they are looking at relaxing the cabotage rules, a plan that has already upset the Road Haulage Association.

“This is because it will allow European drivers to fill up their tanks on cheaper fuel in Europe and make a larger number of drops and pick-ups in the UK at the expense of UK hauliers – and all without having to contribute to road tax here.”

The UK has almost no toll roads whereas those in Europe operate on a pay-as-you go basis.

Stuart Charter is also incensed about the short-circuiting of the HGV driver tests by blending two tests into one.

“Now the government is allowing people who have only driven cars previously behind the wheel of an HGV 1 vehicle, bypassing the HGV Class 2 requirement altogether. Not only is this dangerous ‘corner cutting’, because drivers need to build their experience driving lower weight rigids before progressing into the HGV Class 1 vehicles, but it also does little to solve our shortage.

“If you qualify to drive Class 1 vehicles, which is where a lot of media focus has been concentrated, all the industry will find upstream is a chronic shortage of people wanting to drive the all-important rigid vehicles which make up the vast majority of mixed fleets…This is yet another desperate measure which only serves to give every fleet and health and safety manager across the UK sleepless nights.”

He is also backing calls for the suspension of the CPC to attract more experienced drivers back behind the wheel. “I don’t think there would be any logistics business in the UK who would oppose the suspension or a permanent moratorium on the CPC as it was this EU regulation that probably did most to create the driver shortage in the first instance,” he said.

Logistics UK’s head of road freight regulation policy, James Firth said that the temporary, limited extension to cabotage would force more drivers to park overnight in lay-bys. 

During the consultation on the new plans, Logistics UK asked that the period of cabotage be for seven, not 14, days.  By allowing non-UK hauliers to work in the UK for 14 days, the drivers’ legally mandated weekly rest will need to be taken in the UK, which wsill increase pressure on existing HGV parking spaces, leading to more drivers being forced to sleep overnight on the sides of roads or in insecure locations.

He added: “It is also vital that the temporary nature of this extension is adhered to, to ensure competition from non-UK businesses has a minimal impact on British haulage companies.  We have received a commitment from government that the arrangements will be reviewed after three months and that there will be increased monitoring and enforcement”.