Wednesday 22 September 2021

Government announces driver recruitment support

The government has unveiled a package of measures designed to support driver recruitment, training and retention within the haulage sector, in order to help ease the current shortage.

Ministers from the Department for Transport (DfT), the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) published an open letter to the industry on 20 July, pledging to work with industry to help resolve the crisis.

It announced the launch of a new consultation on the possibility of allowing drivers to take a single test to drive both an articulated and rigid lorry, thereby streamlining the process by which new drivers could gain an HGV licence, and increasing test appointment availability.

The government cited the existing work of the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) in ensuring almost 1,500 HGV drivers pass their driving test each week.

The consultation will also consider whether to allow trainers to examine drivers in the off-road manoeuvres part of the HGV driving test, and whether specific car and trailer tests should be needed. This, says the government, would allow a significant increase in the number of HGV driving tests to be conducted, while also maintaining road safety.

The government also said it would help improve drivers’ working conditions by supporting an increase in official parking spaces, and looking at ways to improve the standard of lorry parks.

Ministers additionally said they were keen to hear more from leaders in the sector regarding an industry-led ‘Year of Logistics’ which would be geared towards attracting new recruits from across society.

The DWP said it would continue to encourage those who had left the sector to rejoin, and confirmed it was developing a new pilot programme for driver training through Jobcentre Plus.

Local councils would be called on to boost flexibility around delivery times to supermarkets and other retailers, the government added, allowing for early morning or evening deliveries where needed.

The package of measures follows the recent announcement of a temporary relaxation of drivers’ hours to help ease pressure on supply chains. At the time of publication, the relaxation was due to run until 8 August, but as events are fast-moving, readers should keep apprised of official government sources for the latest information. More information on the relaxation – which was designed to allow drivers to make slightly longer journeys but only where necessary and without compromising safety – can be found here.

The transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “I want to thank all those in the road haulage industry who have worked so hard throughout the pandemic to provide such a vital service.

“I understand the challenges faced by drivers and operators right now and while longer-term solutions must be led first and foremost by industry leaders, today we are saying this government is here to help.

“This set of measures will kickstart that help, easing pressure on the sector as we work together to attract new drivers, improve conditions and ensure the industry’s future is a prosperous one.”

Work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey added: “As part of our Plan for Jobs, we are helping people gain the skills and experience needed to take up opportunities in the haulage sector, including access to key training, and our Jobcentres are playing a vital role in matching jobseekers with the right roles in the sector.”

George Eustice, the environment secretary, commented: “Our road haulage key workers have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and formed a vital part of the unprecedented response, moving goods and ensuring supplies kept flowing across the nation.

“The government is committed to supporting the logistics industry, which is why we are introducing this package of practical measures to support recruitment and retention of drivers.

“This follows the recent relaxation to drivers’ hours and supermarket delivery hour restrictions to further support the industry.”

In response, Logistics UK said the government’s plan did not deliver on promises made more than three years ago on safe and secure parking facilities.

“The plans revealed by government today only go part of the way to addressing the crucial problem areas that the industry has been talking with government about for years,” said Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at Logistics UK.

“After all the incredibly hard work to keep the country stocked with all that it needed throughout the pandemic, it is dispiriting to see that the safety and security of our workforce in the course of doing their jobs is still not being prioritised.”

She continued: “The lack of available overnight parking spaces continues to be a huge impediment to attracting more people to join the industry and we need the government to make a far clearer commitment to deliver the 1,500 parking spaces it promised in 2018.

“Without the safe and secure locations in which to take legally mandated rest stops, it will be impossible to diversify the workforce and attract new employees to the sector.”

Ms de Jong said the plan also needed concrete targets and timelines to help the industry recruit more drivers.

“It is good to see the urgent focus placed by government on increased HGV driver testing with DVSA, as this is currently the biggest blocker to new entrants entering the workforce, but without targets and a workable timeline, this is simply a statement of intent,” she said.

“We need to know how soon the backlog of 25,000 test passes can be cleared more swiftly by the DVSA, as we estimate at current rates this will take 27 weeks (ie until the end of January 2022).

“We welcome proposals for reform of the vocational driving test process to increase test capacity– but it will take time to make the necessary changes to legislation, and for it to be implemented on the ground, before the full benefit can be felt.

“As always, Logistics UK will continue to work proactively with all areas of government to identify the tangible steps that need to be taken on the route to implementation of this plan, to deliver the support our industry needs as it helps the country to get back on its feet.”

Road Haulage Association chief executive Richard Burnett added: “This is a step in the right direction long-term, but it doesn’t address the critical short-term issues we’re facing. The problem is immediate, and we need to have access to drivers from overseas on short-term visas.

“The idea to simplify training and speed up testing is welcome; along with encouraging recruitment it will only improve things in a year or two’s time.”

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