The HGV driver crisis is not over and will likely cause further disruption as demand increases in the run up to Easter, a group of MPs have been told in an inquiry into the food supply chain
The Food and Drink Supply Chain All-Party Parliamentary Group listened to the first evidence session for its mini-inquiry into the future availability of HGV labour. It took evidence from logistics and supply chain representatives, who said Government interventions including the speeding up of driver testing and HGV driver Bootcamps were now helping to alleviate the shortage.
Read more: Government inquiry to examine food and drink supply chain issues
However, it was the rise of the Omicron variant, and the subsequent reduction in consumer demand in hospitality, that prevented an “absolute disaster” at Christmas.
Other interventions were received poorly by the industry, with the Government’s Visa scheme intended to attract qualified HGV drivers from other countries to fill vacancies in the UK proving to be ineffective, as the three-month term offered was not attractive to workers from the EU and beyond.
The representatives also said that despite the sector’s efforts to increase pay and improve conditions, future recruitment were being complicated by poor facilities for drivers in some areas.
David Pickering, chief executive of Eddie Stobbart, said: “We got exceptionally lucky at Christmas. When Omicron was at its height, hospitality closed down, Christmas meals out were cancelled and people weren’t travelling to see family and friends. Consumer spending went down and our forecast volumes went down as well. It prevented a big impact on the haulage industry, despite all the steps we had taken.”
Cold Chain Federation chief executive Shane Brennan said of the Visa scheme: “Government didn’t talk to industry. There was no real sense that it was anything other than a press release as a policy.
“We need to start thinking about our post-Brexit labour market in a new way to establish generational change in our workforces, both industry and government immigration policy. The vast majority of our drivers are going to retire in 5-10 years. We can be in control of our immigration system without having a closed door.
Matt Vickers chair of the APPG, of which the FWD is the secretariat, said: “Despite other events rightly dominating the news, our HGV driver crisis is far from over and could cause serious problems domestically, particularly in the run up to Easter.
“While the Government has put a number of welcome measures in place, such as the Bootcamp Scheme, in order to plug gaps in this sector, there are still some very serious questions that must be addressed if we are to secure the future of our supply chains.
“I look forward to hearing from experts and professionals across the food and drink supply chain on what we can do to address these issues and come up with viable solutions to this looming crisis.”
The APPG, chaired by Matt Vickers MP will be taking evidence from across the food and drink supply chain before announcing its recommendations to Government at the end of March.
Officers of the Group:
Matt Vickers MP – Chair
Sharon Hodgson MP – Vice-Chair
Tan Dhesi MP – Vice-Chair
Alan Brown MP – Vice-Chair
Bob Blackman MP – Vice-Chair
Marsha Decordova MP – Vice-Chair
Martyn Day MP – Vice-Chair
Deirdre Brock MP – Vice-Chair
David Duguid MP – Vice-Chair
Chris Loder MP – Vice-Chair
Jill Mortimer MP – Vice-Chair
Robbie Moore MP – Vice-Chair
Mike Wood MP – Vice-Chair