Will HGV driver shortage mean empty shelves and higher prices at Christmas?

The HGV driver shortage is a long-running problem that's been getting progressively worse over the last 2 years.

Brexit, the pandemic and tax changes have exacerbated the problem which now sees the industry short of an estimated 80 thousand drivers.

Its led to widespread disruption, empty shelves and higher prices.

Now, with Christmas approaching, the industry is calling for more to be done to resolve the issues.

At this food distribution firm in Chester their drivers aren't doing long overnight shifts but they've had to raise drivers pay by 42% Credit: ITV

At Harlech Foodservices in Chester, they run a fleet of vehicles delivering more than 5,000 product lines to cafés, restaurants, pubs and public sector customers across the North West and North and Mid-Wales, Shropshire and the West Midlands.

They've had to increase their HGV drivers' pay by 42% to ensure they could retain their staff as this nationwide situation escalated.

They're also fast-tracking drivers through their HGV tests to beat delivery shortages caused by the pandemic and Brexit, with seven drivers at their depots in Chester and Criccieth, in Gwynedd, on course to complete their HGV Class C tests this January.

Transport Manager Morgan Jones said, "We had six new van drivers who started this year and they had all done a great job this summer and they have all accepted our offer for them to be trained as HGV drivers by Caernarfon company Carmel Training.

"There is a cost which Harlech cover and it includes the necessary eyesight and medical checks as well as two theory and two practical tests after an intensive three-day course with Carmel in Caernarfon.

"The actual cost is about £1,500 each but we reimburse them for that and in return they sign a form committing themselves to the company which they have been happy to do.

"It's really good to know they're aware of this and are keen to stay with us at Harlech."

Andrew Davidson joined the company in July and is now being trained up as an HGV driver Credit: ITV

Harlech Managing Director David Cattrall said, "We have always had a policy of recruiting from within whenever and wherever possible and that's been true of our van drivers.

"The current situation in the transport sector makes this more important than ever and we believe it is better if we can train our existing staff to fill any gaps rather than getting into a recruiting war.

"In response we ask them to agree to stay with the business for two years after they qualify and all have been happy to do so and we look forward to them working for us for many years into the future.

"We know the worth of our own people and we value their loyalty and believe it is better to offer them a career path through training which at the same time enables us to ensure we can continue to provide our customers with the deliveries they need when they need them."

Why is there a shortage of HGV drivers?

Industry leaders say it has been a "perfect storm" that has led to the current situation.

  • Covid Pandemic

The Royal Haulage Association (RHA) says the coronavirus pandemic saw many foreign HGV drivers return to their home countries with the "vast majority" not returning.

To make things worse, 45 thousand HGV tests were cancelled during the pandemic, with 25 thousand fewer candidates passing their test in 2020 than in 2019.

  • Brexit

The RHA says around 20 thousand European drivers have left the UK for "Brexit reasons".

It says the "uncertainty of Brexit and future rights to live and work in the UK" forced many drivers to leave.

But Brexit supporters say that it has enabled more domestic drivers to be trained up here in the UK.

  • Retiring drivers

The average age of an HGV driver is 55, while less than 1% of drivers are under the age of 25.

The RHA says around 2 thousand drivers are leaving each week - many of those retiring - with only half that number joining in the same period.

  • Pay

Pay has been traditionally low but that is now changing with huge wage rises being brought in across the industry, enticing younger drivers.

  • Working Conditions

Much has been made of conditions at roadside services which were exacerbated during the coronavirus pandemic.

Logistics UK is calling for the government to deliver on their promise to deliver an extra 14 hundred lorry parking spaces across the UK.

Temporary visas were brought in by the government allowing foreign lorry drivers to work in the UK.

The temporary measures have created opportunities for 5,000 HGV drivers to take up employment in the UK until Christmas Eve.

But industry leaders say this won't solve the problem and is just a temporary fix.

Additional driving tests have been announced too.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, announced tests will be shorter, with the reversing exercise element removed and the uncoupling and recoupling exercise for trailer tests also removed.

But that has prompted fears from some that this will lead to more accidents in the future.