Urgent training and recruitment needed to tackle lorry driver shortage across South East

Video report by ITV News Meridian's Kit Bradshaw

Retailers and freight firms are calling for urgent changes to address a growing shortage of lorry drivers.

The problem is now disrupting deliveries across the South East as well as cross-channel trade and waste collection.

Stricter immigration rules since Brexit, combined with the impact of the pandemic, have seen the loss of 1 in 6 HGV drivers.

It is causing shortages in the shops and is already threatening the Christmas trade boost, so badly needed, after the economic impact of the pandemic.

At one driving test centre in the south, assessments were on hold for months due to the pandemic, leading to a long tailback in the system.

Dawn Shayes, Driving School Operations Manager, said: "At the end of the day, there's not enough tests around. We get an average of 18 tests a week.

"If we could double that, we could double the amount of people we're training."

Watch: Dawn Shayes, Driving School Operations Manager

The Road Haulage Association estimates that nationally we are in need of around 100,000 extra HGV drivers. 

Among those getting tested in Purfleet was Lee Nash, one of many looking for a change in career.He said: "I used to be in the gas, so I've come from there to do this. Just a bit more of an easier life."

A search on one popular job website brings up 700 current vacancies in the South East for lorry drivers, with salaries ranging from £25,000-£55,000 a year.

The lack of HGV drivers has been blamed for shortages of Nandos chicken and McDonald's milkshakes, and has also hit council garden waste collections in many parts of the South East.

Credit: ITV News Meridian

One councillor in Tonbridge and Malling is using her allowance to pay for temporary skips in local car parks. 

Cllr Sarah Hudson, Tonbridge & Malling Council (Con) said: "To get rid of as much of it as we could so that the system is not overloaded when it does get reinstated. It just seemed a practical solution to a problem."

Various industry bodies have been calling for a relaxation of visa rules to allow more foeign drivers to work here. 

Jenny Grant, Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology, said: "There's a need for an urgent review of the shortage occupation list and HGV drivers must be recognised.

"Also, a temporary relaxation of the visa requirement and immigration rules to allow trained HGV drivers, which will help alleviate the problem."

Watch: Rob Hollyman, Director, Youngs Transportation 

The government says it has plans in place to address supply chain issues.

A spokesperson said: "We have a highly resilient food supply chain and well-established ways of working with the food sector to address food supply chain disruptions.

"We recently announced a package of measures to help tackle the HGV driver shortage, including plans to streamline the process for new drivers to gain their HGV licence and to increase the number of driving tests able to be conducted.

"However, most of the solutions are likely to be driven by industry, with progress already being made in testing and hiring, and a big push towards improving pay, working conditions and diversity.

"We want to see employers make long term investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad and our Plan for Jobs is helping people across the country retrain, build new skills and get back into work."