The FWD believes the Government’s move to attract more HGV drivers to the UK is ‘too little, too late’ and still doesn’t appease wholesaler concerns about distribution as the industry heads towards one of its busiest periods of the year.
The association believes an extra 5,000 HGV drivers might just do enough to reduce the gaps on supermarket shelves, or keep the forecourts open, but it won’t do much to reassure foodservice outlets of what the supply will be around Christmas.
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“We have been pressing the Government for months to introduce temporary visas to bring in skilled EU workers until the UK is able to recruit, train, test and properly reward a new generation of HGV drivers,” explained chief executive Jame Bielby. “Had they listened and acted earlier, they could have avoided the PR disaster of panic at the petrol pumps in every newspaper and TV channel.”
“An extra 10,000 seasonal visas for drivers and poultry workers won’t increase the flow of food and drink into FWD members’ distribution centres, or return order fulfilment to the levels customers expect. But the concession does demonstrate that the government is finally taking the issue seriously. Now the door is open to adding HGV drivers to the Shortage Occupation List – with vastly improved wages, the relative weakness of the Pound against the Euro, and the assurance of a more permanent stay than the three months offered by the new visa scheme, it is hoped that European drivers will fill UK vacancies, especially if they have existing ties here,” he added.
Bielby also explained that there’s a real concern that this period of relative prosperity is coming to an end as the full extent of the food distribution crisis reveals itself. “With schools back and Christmas looming, short-staffed teams are already at full stretch keeping their customers stocked in the face of unreliable and incomplete deliveries from suppliers, while facing their own challenges finding and retaining drivers for their HGV vehicles.”