The Department for Transport (DfT) has launched a week-long consultation into a plan to relax the rules around cabotage by foreign operators within Great Britain, in its latest bid to alleviate the current supply chain crisis.
Cabotage – the movement of goods between two places in the same country by a non-domestic operator for hire and reward – is normally heavily restricted, but the DfT proposes to grant temporary extra cabotage rights within England, Scotland and Wales for a short period.
According to the DfT, the extended rights would only extend to Northern Ireland if desired by the devolved authorities.
Its proposals would allow unlimited cabotage movements of HGVs for up to 14 days after arriving on a laden international journey into the UK, compared to the current rules which allow just two cabotage journeys within seven days of entry.
The DfT proposes that this change would come into force towards the end of the year and apply for three or six months, subject to ongoing review.
The measure would not be transport-sector specific. It would apply to all types of goods, but DfT expects particular benefits for food supply chains and goods entering via ports, as it would ensure lorries coming from abroad into the UK were used more efficiently.
Announcing the move, the transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “The long-term answer to the supply chain issues we’re currently experiencing must be developing a high-skill, high-wage economy here in the UK.
“Alongside a raft of other measures to help the road haulage industry, we’ve streamlined the testing process and announced thousands of skills bootcamps to train new drivers.
“These measures are working – we’ve been seeing up to three times more applications for HGV driving licences than normal as well as a deserved rise in salaries.
“The temporary changes we’re consulting on to cabotage rules will also make sure foreign hauliers in the UK can use their time effectively and get more goods moving in the supply chain at a time of high demand.”
However, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) has already expressed criticism of the plan. Policy and public affairs managing director Rod McKenzie told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that some RHA members “were appalled” by the news, adding that “‘ridiculous’, ‘pathetic’ [and] ‘gobsmacked’ were some of their more broadcastable comments.”
He added: “The government’s been talking about a high-wage, high-skill economy, and not pulling the lever marked ‘uncontrolled immigration’. And to them, this is exactly what it looks like – allowing overseas haulage companies and drivers to come over… to do unlimited work at low rates, undercutting UK hauliers who are… facing an acute driver shortage, rising costs, staff wages.
“So this is about taking work from British operators and drivers, and giving it to Europeans who don’t pay tax here, and pay peanuts to their drivers.”
He continued: “The government clearly wants to save Christmas and be seen to be saving Christmas, and extra drivers will clearly help Christmas deliveries. So from a simple populist point of view, you can see what they’re doing.
“But there are consequences for hard-working UK hauliers, who are suffering under a weight of staff shortages, poor roadside facilities, ridiculous waiting times to load and unload. And this simply doesn’t help UK haulage. We don’t want cabotage to sabotage our industry.”
Interested parties can read the consultation document and respond here, until 11:45pm on 21 October.