'Christmas crisis' awaits if action not taken to fix HGV driver shortages, PM warned

The UK has up to 100,000 HGV driver vacancies. Credit: AP

A "Christmas crisis" awaits the UK if the prime minister does not take urgent action to fix the HGV driver shortages, haulage bosses have warned.

In a letter to Boris Johnson signed by 1,600 haulage sector bosses, the industry said that without decisive action there is a "risk of further damage to not only our businesses and livelihoods, but the UK's integrated and finely balanced supply chains".

Led by the Road Haulage Association (RHA), the letter urged him to "act now to prevent a Christmas crisis".

The hauliers demand that HGV drivers are added to the shortage occupation list for at least 12 months, instead of the current three month period.

They also want reform to driver certification to encourage retired drivers to return to the profession.

A shortage of HGV drivers, which at its height saw more than 100,000 vacancies in the industry, has already heavily impacted consumers in the UK.

It caused a nationwide fuel shortage at petrol stations - with many being forced to close over a lack of stock - and the UK’s biggest container port was forced to turn away ships because HGVs were not collecting deliveries at a quick enough rate.

"Without further action," the letter said, "this will only get worse, particularly as we begin the countdown to Christmas".

Felixstowe Port in Suffolk has been forced to turn away ships because too few HGV drivers were available to take containers away. Credit: PA

Haulage groups have blamed the shortage of lorry drivers on a number of factors, including low pay and poor working conditions, Brexit, and the coronavirus pandemic.

The government has already made available 5,000 temporary visas which allows foreign HGV drivers to work in the UK until Christmas and relaxed haulage rules so that drivers from abroad can complete an unlimited number of deliveries before leaving.

It has also doubled the number of driver tests available in a bid to encourage people to enter the sector after a number of firms heavily increased the salaries on offer, with some offering as much as £54,000 a year.

But haulage firms insist there is still a chronic shortage of lorry drivers.

Rod McKenzie, RHA managing director for policy and public affairs said, said: “There has never been a more challenging time for the haulage industry. The prime minister must act now or risk even more drastic disruption than we have already seen in recent months.

“Our members are committed to working with government on long-term solutions to attract more drivers into the industry. However, the government is simply not addressing the short-term severity of this crisis given the 18 months it will take to invest in and train a UK workforce. Lacklustre and ill-conceived proposals such as a three-month visa will not work.

“For months we have been calling for urgent action. The tin-eared approach from ministers to this spiralling situating cannot continue.”