Thursday 20 January 2022

Hauliers urge action to avoid ‘Christmas crisis’

Road Haulage Association members and key trade bodies have written to the prime minister Boris Johnson calling for urgent action to prevent supply chain chaos in the run-up to the festive season.

More than 1,600 hauliers and business have urged the PM to “personally intervene to find a full and workable solution to the critical shortage of HGV drivers” – via means including adding HGV drivers to the Home Office shortage occupation list for at least a year while a domestic workforce is trained; reform of rules around Driver CPC to encourage experienced and retired drivers to return to the sector; and the formation of an industry/government taskforce to tackle issues like infrastructure investment and the promotion of driving as a career.

Failure to act decisively will “risk further damage to not only our businesses and livelihoods, but the UK’s integrated and finely balanced supply chains,” the letter warns.

“The Prime Minister must act now or risk even more drastic disruption than we have already seen in recent months,” said RHA managing director for policy and public affairs, Rod McKenzie.

“Our members are committed to working with government on long-term solutions to attract more drivers into the industry. However, the government is simply not addressing the short-term severity of this crisis given the 18 months it will take to invest in and train a UK workforce.

“Lacklustre and ill-conceived proposals such as a three-month visa will not work.

“For months we have been urging for urgent action. The tin-eared approach from ministers to this spiralling situation cannot continue.”

In addition to high-profile operators such as Eddie Stobart, Culina Group and XPO Logistics, the letter was signed by bosses of major trade groups including the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, British Beer & Pub Association and the British Frozen Food Federation.

However, British Internation­al Freight Association (BIFA) director-general Robert Keen earlier played down sugges­tions that the UK logistics in­dustry may not be able to “de­liver Christmas”.

Mr Keen said it was time to maintain a sense of perspective, or the headlines could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Many products that con-sumers are beginning to fear will be absent from shop shelves could well have been shipped and received by retailers already,” he said.

“If we see normal purchasing patterns, we should also see that most of what consumers are seeking will be available to purchase.

“After all, we need to remember that more TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit containers) were shipped successfully in August 2021 than in August 2019 before the pandemic. There is plenty of cargo being moved around.

“Are there major operational challenges, currently?

“Yes, of course, but our members and freight forwarders across the world, that are responsible for managing the supply chains that underpin global trade, are moving hell and high water to address them and doing their part to ensure that the forthcoming holiday season will go ahead as well as possible.”

On 18 October, the transport secretary Grant Shapps told Parliament: “With 25 proactive actions taken by my department to resolve the long-term HGV driver shortage in recent weeks, we are already seeing results, with a 300 per cent increase in the number of HGV provisional licence applications.”

The RHA has pointed out that many drivers left the industry after the introduction of compulsory periodic training in the form of the Driver CPC, and a compulsory 35 hours of classroom training remained a deterrent to many potential returners.

“Driver CPC creates a barrier for experienced qualified lorry drivers returning to the cab,” said Rod McKenzie last month.

“It puts a hurdle in the way, adds complexity, and is seen by many drivers as pointless. We have suggested a simple compromise: one day’s class-room CPC in return for one year’s driving.”

The Association of Pallet Networks has called for DCPC’s suspension for two years, during which time it says it should be reformed or abolished.

While it has welcomed the HGV Skills Bootcamps in theory, the RHA has pointed out that the proposed timescales are such that they are likely to be ineffective.

“The problem is that the HGV Skills Bootcamp has a cut-off date. All learning must be completed by the end of March. Given that the procurement of training providers won’t be completed until November, it’s likely the first learners won’t start until December,” said the RHA.

“With Christmas breaks, delays at DVLA and then the booking of the DVSA test (which in some areas is still taking 12 weeks), ensuring that all training is completed by the end of March is a tough ask.

“The gamble for a training provider is that they won’t receive all the funding until the learner has completed the course. If learners don’t start until January, that only gives them 12 weeks so it’s highly likely this will run over, and that’s without factoring in retests.

“Our view is that we understand that this is being set up as a pilot and the sector desperately needs this, but the timeframes need to be realistic. The HGV Skills Bootcamp should not be a time restricted offer, it should be a long-term solution to the driver shortage with a bus/coach sibling alongside it.”

Meanwhile in late October, in response to the continued supply chain pressure, the Department for Transport (DfT) extended the temporary relaxation of enforcement of retained EU drivers’ hours rules in Great Britain. It said the new relaxation would apply until 9 January 2022, subject to review. Full details on conditions can be found at the DVSA website.

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