The British government has continued to resist pleas by the logistics sector and its customers to loosen immigration rules so as to facilitate an influx of EU-based HGV drivers to the UK – despite an estimated 90 – 100,000 driver shortfall which has been causing major supply disruption across the retail and hospitality sectors.
At the end of a chaotic summer for the industry which has seen fleets including supermarket groups hike up driver wages and incentives in a bid to attract new workers, some sources reported that ministers were considering relaxing foreign worker regulations due to increased pressure from retailers – suggesting that a review of the Home Office ‘shortage occupation list’ due in 2022 could be brought forward and HGV drivers added to it.
But in response to a direct appeal by Logistics UK and the British Retail Consortium, the business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng wrote in late August: “The government recognise that the UK labour market has changed dramatically due to the economic impacts and measures necessary to tackle Covid-19, and I realise that by adding HGV drivers to the shortage occupation list, this could provide a short-term, temporary solution.
“However, many UK-based workers now face an uncertain future and need to find new employment opportunities. I am sure you would agree on the importance of utilising the strength of our domestic workforce, and how our migration policies need to be considered alongside our strategies to ensure UK-based workers are better able to secure decent employment opportunities.”
Alex Veitch, general manager for public policy at Logistics UK, said the trade group was “frustrated” with the decision, adding that temporary visas for EU drivers “would help to overcome the current supply chain problems” while new domestic drivers underwent training and qualifications, a process which can take up to nine months.