'Snowball's chance in hell': Ex-HGV driver says visas won't solve shortages by Christmas

Workers in the haulage industry tell ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana why they don't think the visa scheme will work

A former lorry driver has described how dire working conditions, including a lack of access to toilets and showers, have driven thousands of men and women out of the haulage industry, resulting in the shortages that have triggered this week's petrol crisis. 

Duncan Garwell told ITV News that he, his wife and son all had licences to drive trucks, but none of them were prepared to put up with the work anymore. 

"I'm driving a tractor, my wife is working in an office and my son is working for telecommunications," he said. "That tells you everything."

Although Mr Garwell said poor pay was a big issue, especially with long working days, he argued that the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, was "on another planet" if he thought that money alone would fix the issues that had led to mass shortages.

Duncan Garwell tells ITV News the issues are too "deep-rooted" to solve by Christmas

"The problem in the industry is so deep rooted - you can't just throw money and paper over the cracks," he said, adding that there was "a snowball's chance in hell" of getting this sorted by Christmas with 5,000 temporary emergency visas and training for new drivers

"If you decide today you want to be a lorry driver, you've got to find a GP that will see you to have medical done - good luck with that," he said.

"Once you've done that, you've got to send your licence off to DVLA to get a provisional - it is taking them up to four months to turn a license around.

What can the government do to improve the crisis? - Anushka Asthana

"So, you probably won't have your provisional licence back until January next year anyway - it is a farce."

The former driver said his father - who also drove HGVs - had seen this crisis coming in his lifetime and he died 20 years ago, but he said the pandemic had exacerbated the problems.

"Last year was the tipping point - when drivers throughout the pandemic were still working as normal - stopping at service stations and were locked out of showers, toilet facilities and couldn't get something to eat," added Mr Garwell.

"Until you've slept in a lay-by, gone to the toilet in a milk bottle and washed yourself with baby wipes... you've got no idea what the transport sector is all about"

"I read someone on Twitter - 'until you've slept in a lay-by, gone to the toilet in a milk bottle every morning and washed yourself with baby wipes and cold water, you've got no idea what the transport sector is all about'."

Mr Shapps has insisted that government measures to give temporary visas to foreign workers and write to a million former drivers to try to lure back into the industry is a short term fix, while in the long term pay and conditions had to improve. 

But Mr Garwell argued that after so many years it would now be difficult to get drivers back, saying that if he received a letter, he would throw it in the bin.

Mr Garwell said if he received a letter from the government asking him to return to the profession amid the crisis it would "go straight in the bin"

"Just chucking money at this won't fix it," he said.

He said that driving a tractor was far better because it was clean, no one shouted at him and there was no traffic. 

Mr Shapps earlier told ITV news that HGV drivers had faced terrible conditions, saying that was why 99% of drivers were male and there were issues with younger people entering the profession.

"People have talked a lot rightly about an HGV crisis, there's been a shortage of HGV drivers for many years," the transport secretary told ITV News

"People have talked a lot rightly about an HGV crisis, there's been a shortage of HGV drivers for many years," he said.

"It's been massively exacerbated by coronavirus, that is true, but the big package of measures we're bringing in today.... will help to right the situation, we just need the public to also not be concerned because there is more petrol coming.

"It's not that we don't have petrol in this country. The refineries, the storage units are full."

Mr Shapps suggested that employers had undercut British workers with low paid foreign staff and argued that had to end. 

When asked how government could help that, a source at the Department for Transport said they were looking into whether it could help provide better roadside facilities, but added that it ultimately came down to the private sector. 

“Industry has put off reforming for years and immigration has played a big part in that," he said.

"The deal today is that - given how Covid has made the situation worse - we’ll provide some very short term relief, but industry absolutely cannot put off making these reforms any longer."

What action is the government taking?

As well as the temporary visa scheme for HGV drivers, 5,500 poultry workers will be able to take up employment in the UK until Christmas Eve, in a bid to keep supermarket shelves stocked with turkeys and toys and counter delivery difficulties at petrol stations.

Other measures announced by the government in a bid to ease the shortage of HGV drivers include:

  • Plans to train 4,000 more lorry drivers through both a £10 million investment in skills camps and established adult education budgets, with some of those studying for HGV licences eligible to have their courses paid for by the state.

  • The Ministry of Defence is stepping in to provide examiners for lorry driving tests so that more can be carried out.

  • One million people with HGV licences who have left the industry will be contacted, asking them to return.