The impact of Brexit and additional blow of COVID-19 meant we were faces with a truck driver shortage. Brexit is now complete, and a large proportion of the population is double-vaccinated. So, the question of if we are still facing a truck driver shortage in the UK is once again relevant.
According to the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD), the truck driver shortage has now increased to 70,000. The Road Haulage Association has warned that the truck driver shortage has already reached a crisis point.
The crisis is evident as food wholesalers are experiencing extreme difficulties in delivering goods to supermarkets, restaurants, pubs, and care homes. The Financial Times recently highlighted that goods were not being delivered as haulage companies were forced to turn down orders due to the lack of truck drivers.
In June, there were calls to the government to bring in army lorry drivers to alleviate the shortage. However, industry associations declared the solution as not a long-term or sustainable solution, and even army truck drivers would need retraining.
The Initial Impact Of Brexit & COVID-19
The finalisation of the Brexit transition period effectively ended recruitment from European countries, which have historically constituted a large portion of the truck driver workforce (previously estimated to be around 60,000 of the 300,000 HGV drivers working in the UK).
Truck driving is not recognised as a critical role under new immigration rules, ushered in as part of Brexit. It is now impossible for European lorry drivers to apply for a skilled worker visa.
Brexit also placed extra stress on haulage companies with Customs delays, tighter border controls, and increased import and export paperwork and licences.
There is a significant backlog of driving tests as few were available during the Coronavirus lockdowns and times of varying restrictions. The pandemic brought an abrupt halt to local recruitment, and those who were unable to secure truck driver tests have moved onto different career paths. Estimates indicate that approximately 30,000 HGV driving tests were lost over the past year.
Occurring during the same time period as Brexit and coronavirus were the IR35 tax law reforms. The reform closed a loophole on who could class themselves as self-employed. As a result this raises the amount of tax these individuals will pay. While everyone should pay their fair share of tax, the end result is a lower net income for many, which will deter new drivers and cause existing ones to jump ship and switch careers.
Truck Driver Shortage Expected To Continue
The truck driver shortage is expected to continue. According to the International Road Transport Union (IRU), the problem has spread across Europe. In 2020, IRU estimated that the UK was short of 50,000 HGV drivers. Furthermore since losing their right to live and work in the UK, 15,000 drivers of European citizenship have left.
There have been many efforts to ease the problems facing the haulage industry. For example. the Department of Transport extended the temporary extension to drivers’ hours until 3 October 2021. Wholesalers have increased driver salaries by between 10 and 30%. Furthermore, they are attempting to fulfill small orders in non-HGV trucks.
50,000 more HGV driving tests have been made available during the next 12 months as legislation streamlines the testing process. Truck drivers now only need to take one test (instead of the previous two tests spaced three weeks apart), permitting them to drive articulated and rigid lorries.
The truck driving test has also been made shorter by removing the reversing exercise. The coupling and uncoupling exercises for driving vehicles with trailers will instead be conducted by a third party. This gives examiners more availability. Examiner availability has also been improved, with car drivers no longer needing a test to tow a trailer or caravan.
30% of truck drivers aged 55 or over and due for retirement in the next decade. As a result a multi-faceted approach to the truck driver shortage is needed.