Freight industry business group Logistics UK has issued a call for seasonal visas to be introduced for European HGV drivers, along with more funding for training, in order to address the challenge of the lack of HGV drivers on the roads.
There are currently more than 45,000 HGV driver tests outstanding at the DVSA because of lockdown, with the organisation estimating that it can undertake 118,000 tests throughout the remainder of the year, but it will be months before the existing backlog of outstanding examinations is cleared.
Chief executive of Logistics UK David Wells explained that the backlog was created because all driving tests were suspended during the pandemic, leading to a skills shortage. Concurrently, 79,000 European drivers returned home, which exacerbated the issue and saw haulage firms struggling to recruit new drivers.
He said: “The government recently granted temporary visa status for agricultural workers to ensure that important crops are picked and made available for UK consumers. But without temporary visa status for the drivers to move this food to where it is needed, the supply chain will break down at the first hurdle. The two sectors work hand in hand and should be treated in the same way.
“Our members urgently need drivers to be available now while DVSA catches up with the backlog of outstanding driving tests: without this temporary cover, there is a very real risk to the availability of the food and other vital items on which we rely during the summer months.”
Mr Wells continued, saying that even before EU workers went home the logistics sector was already facing a chronic driver shortage. He called on the government to make funded training a priority, as this will open the industry up to as many new recruits as possible, attracting a new generation of drivers, as well as other members of staff.
A recent Logistics UK report found that nearly one in ten businesses say that driver recruitment is now an extreme barrier to their recovery. Some 29 per cent anticipate that they won’t be able to fill vacancies for drivers in 2021, while another 14.5 per cent expect to see long delays before roles are filled.
The organisation wants to see the government offer grants or interest-free loans to train and reskill members of staff and boost recruitment for the logistics industry. It also wants the DVSA to maintain its fast-track programme and catch up on a minimum of 30,000 driving tests that were postponed during March and December 2020, as a result of the pandemic.
Other staff shortages expected to be seen this year include fitter, technician and mechanic vacancies, with 37 per cent of survey respondents saying they anticipate being unable to fill such job vacancies in 2021.
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