Shorter HGV test could be introduced in bid to solve driver crisis

Government ‘will announce new shorter HGV test as soon as Thursday’ which will qualify 1,600 new drivers a week in bid to solve supply chain crisis that has emptied Britain’s shelves

  • Reports suggest the Government could shake up the HGV drivers testing system
  • The move could go some way to addressing 100,000 driver shortfall in Britain
  • Government is expected to say changes will allow 3,000 to be tested per week
  • Crisis has affected brands across country including Nando’s, Ikea and Coca Cola 

The Government is set to announce plans to introduce a shorter HGV test for drivers in a bid to solve the supply chain crisis, it has been reported.

Industry sources have said the Government wants to fast-track tests for new drivers to plug the spiralling vacancies in the haulier industry.

Britain is currently facing a 100,000 shortfall of HGV drivers, which industry bosses have partly blamed on changes to migration rules post-Brexit and EU employees returning home due to the pandemic.

The crisis, which has also been made worse by Covid-related delays to testing new drivers, has seen supermarket shelves across the country go empty as companies struggle to restock their products.

The Government could announce plans to shake-up HGV tests for drivers in a bid to address the supply crisis which has seen supermarkets struggle to stock shelves with certain products

A sign advising products are temporarily out of stock is displayed in a supermarket in London

Brands including Ikea, Coca Cola, McDonalds and Wetherspoons have all been affected by ongoing HGV driver shortages.

Now, according to the BBC, ‘the penny has finally dropped’ in meetings between the Government, hauliers and suppliers regarding the problem getting worse and plans are underway to address it.

An industry insider told the corporation: ‘The government seem to finally understand the scale of the problem. For the first time they looked rattled.’

It is understood the plans will evolve around the combination of tests for Class C rigid lorries and Class E articulated lorries.

The tests are currently taken separately with a two to three week minimum waiting period required between them.

The announcement, which could come as early as Thursday, has been welcomed by the haulage industry but say it does not go far enough to fix the problem.

Paul Jackson of Chiltern Distribution told the BBC: ‘This is a sensible move but it’s not enough to fix the problem.

‘We don’t put newly qualified drivers straight behind the wheel on their own. We buddy them up with experienced drivers for the first 8-10 weeks and the insurance costs for new drivers are also much higher.

At least 18 councils are experiencing disruption to bin collections due to driver shortages

‘We desperately need to put HGV drivers on the list of skilled workers we can bring in from abroad.’

Industry bosses have asked for HGV drivers to be added to the Shortage Occupation List which would allow firms to temporarily bring back some of the estimated 20,000 EU drivers who have left.

The BBC reports that the government is expected to say the new system will mean up to 3,000 new drivers can be tested each week.

With a current pass rate of 56 per cent, this would mean an extra 1,600 drivers per week.

The shortage is impacting several sectors across the UK including the food industry and bin collection services delivered by local councils.

Earlier this week, Coca-Cola said a can shortage was being compounded by a shortfall of HGV drivers.

And pub chain Wetherspoon’s said it was suffering from a beer shortage while fast food chains McDonald’s, KFC and Nando’s have all suffered similar supply chain issues in recent months.

The latter firm had to close around a tenth of its outlets due to a chicken shortage caused in part by a lack of drivers.

Meanwhile Seqirus, one of the world’s largest flu vaccine companies, this week reported delays in jab deliveries of up to a fortnight.

Britain has around 237,300 qualified drivers who are not yet on the roads, despite the shortfall of 100,000 workers.

Industry experts have said better pay and improved working conditions are needed to lure them back.

They put the shortage largely down to Brexit and the pandemic, which led to 14,000 European drivers going home and just 600 of those returning. 

Why is there a supply-chain crisis? 

A lack of lorry drivers and food processors is being partly blamed on the new Brexit visa regime introduced on January 1, which penalises lower-skilled migrants in favour of those with qualifications. 

But global factors are relevant too, bosses say, including Chinese port closures and a lack of shipping containers. US Vice President Kamala Harris urged Americans to buy Christmas toys early due to a shortage there. 

Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, told MailOnline Britain has so far been unable to shake its dependency on EU workers who have been leaving due to the pandemic.

The supply of new workers is also being held back by stricter visa rules introduced on January 1.

The most common complaint among UK retailers and food producers is the shortage of lorry drivers, which the Road Haulage Association currently puts at 100,000.

Thousands of prospective drivers are waiting for their HGV tests due to a backlog caused by lockdown, while many existing ones have left the UK after Brexit or to be back with their families during Covid.

Importers are also suffering a financial hit, with dramatically rising transport costs caused by a global lack of shipping containers and a slowdown in freight movements resulting from port closures.

Chinese authorities recently shut Ningbo-Zhoushan port, which is one of the world’s largest container terminals, due to a Covid outbreak.

Gary Grant, founder and executive chairman of toy chain the Entertainer, said the cost of shipping a container from Asia had increased from $1,700 to more than $13,000 (£8,000) over the past year.

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