Somerset firm nearly doubles spend on lorry driver pay but it is still not enough to tackle shortage

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The owners of one South West's biggest haulage and distribution firms say Covid and Brexit has created a perfect storm for driver shortages.

R.T Keedwell, in Highbridge, has nearly doubled what it was spending on staff wages before the pandemic - but says there are still facing difficulties recruiting.

It comes as the Road Haulage Association is lobbying for international drivers to return to the UK.

Ellie Keedwell has been driving arctic lorries for nearly two years. The 23-year-old says the biggest turn off is the UK's lack of rest break facilities for drivers, with the ones which are available often "dirty" and "broken".

"Things like showers, toilets, you go in some of them the shower tiles are all broken the shower head's snapped off. It's just dirty it's not clean and you sometimes looking and thinking - 'really do I have to stand in that?'"

Ellie Keedwell says some of the places she's stopped for rest breaks are so dirty she questions whether to use them. Credit: ITV West Country

Another driver Lee Prior says it's a "nightmare" trying to find space in official truck-stops and drivers sometimes have to resort to parking in laybys or services.

"If you've got high-value loads you need to be somewhere safe, not in a layby. Else they just cut your curtains and rob you."

Stuart Keedwell owns the R.T Keedwell Group based in Highbridge. He says during furlough many lorry drivers decided this wasn't the life for them but without more joining the profession empty supermarket shelves will be the tip of the iceberg.

"The country would grind to a stop very quickly, literally days," he said.

"If we get an order today we have to be in Scotland tomorrow, that's what were expected to do as an industry. We have to react but obviously we can't react if we haven't got enough drivers."

A backlog in driving tests is also causing problems.

Dee Keedwell is in charge of recruiting for the firm's nine depots across the country. She said it is going to take seven months to put one apprentice through, when it usually takes around three.

The Road Haulage Association is calling on the government to do more to allow international drivers back on UK roads.

It is calling for short-term working visas to address the immediate problems, while also adding 'lorry driver' occupational shortage list to give foreign drivers the right to live and work over here indefinitely.

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

"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," a spokesperson said.

"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."