Drivers line up to cross from Liverpool to Northern Ireland. Image: AlanMorris /

Driver shortages already plaguing wholesalers and deliveries to care homes and supermarkets could soon lead to delays in home deliveries and shortages at supermarkets, it was warned today.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) and the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) were among those who recently warned that the driver shortage is now at a critical point, with a growing shortage of truck drivers. This is attributed to Brexit and Covid-19, with delays in driver training and testing added to an exodus of European truck drivers after the UK left the customs union and the single market.

Today, according to David Jinks, head of consumer research at ParcelHero, a home delivery specialist, the effects of the shortage are expected to be felt in home delivery and on supermarket shelves, consequently affecting retailers. online deliveries.

He says: “Home deliveries of food and goods are already affected by the shortage of drivers, with some stores also running out of stock. We may soon be faced with shortages as severe as those at the start of the first lockdown, which could mean a return to rationing of staple foods.

“The reason is too obvious. Our analysis of government figures last October showed thousands of EU drivers and warehouses were fleeing the UK to avoid Brexit regulations. Many EU citizens did not meet the criteria proposed by the government for skilled work visas. This massive exodus has been exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19, which has paralyzed the training of new truck drivers. UK retailers and their supply chain partners are now facing a perfect storm. “

Tesco chief executive Ken Murphy last week said the supermarket had experienced shortages of truck drivers but was working to address them. Speaking to analysts after the first quarter results, Reuters reports, Murphy said, “In terms of labor availability, we’ve seen a shortage specifically among heavy truck drivers, but we’re working really hard. to remedy. We already have plans to fill the gap and we are working closely with suppliers.

Calls to action

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett warns buyers may soon see additional costs passed on to them and has a 12-point plan for the industry, which includes a seasonal visa program for qualified heavy-duty drivers, priority driving tests, a return to the heavy goods vehicle driving program. and improving the productivity of the road network.

He says: “The economic recovery from Covid-19 is increasing demand in supply chains and the reopening of non-essential outlets and parts of the hotel industry is making the situation even worse. The pandemic has also resulted in the loss of around 12 months of driving training and testing. The long-term ineffectiveness of truck driver training and general hostility from authorities and government are also of little use in recruiting and retaining drivers. This, he says, means freight rates are now rising to an unsustainable level for operators, and the costs will have to be passed on to consumers. He says, “We need the government to act and address the driver shortage for industry and drivers. While we welcome the increased funding for heavyweight apprenticeship to £ 7,000, this only scratches the surface of the problem. “

FWD Managing Director James Bielby said: “The driver shortage has reached a critical point for some of our members and we believe it is likely to worsen as more and more venues open up and demand increases.

“With the estimated shortfall of 70,000 truck drivers, some wholesalers have had to limit the number of deliveries they make to convenience stores, leading to availability issues. They’ve done everything they can to keep their customers stocked, including increasing driver salaries and even sending depot staff in non-heavy-duty vehicles to fill small orders. Some have had to turn down business in order to fill orders from repeat customers. “

Last week, the FWD met with ministers to discuss options, including putting army drivers on standby to ensure food distribution is not interrupted, with warnings that the entire supply chain could be affected.

“Wholesalers have tried to hire agencies, but these are also short of drivers,” Bielby says. “Manufacturers of products that supply the wholesale channel have similar distribution problems and our members report particular difficulties in sourcing soft drinks, beer and chilled products like cream, cheese, yogurt and meats. “

The FWD calls on the government to extend the working hours for drivers to 11 hours a day, while other proposals include ending leave for heavy truck drivers and using the military to deliver to vulnerable communities.

ParcelHero’s Jinks says that for now these demands are falling on deaf ears of a UK government keen to see UK workers fill vacancies rather than relying on foreign labor.

He says: “Once abroad, drivers face huge customs delays and intrusive Covid testing. In the UK there is a reduction in truck stops where they can rest safely and the introduction of IR35 tax changes which have significantly increased their costs. It is no wonder that few UK citizens want to train as new drivers and many existing professionals are quitting their jobs.

“Two important changes need to happen to ensure the UK has the pilots it needs. First, it is time for UK drivers to be more widely recognized and rewarded for the vital role they play in supporting industry and retailers. Secondly, it is high time the UK government worked with the EU to address issues related to delays and customs charges, deliveries to Northern Ireland and rising transport costs. This means revisiting some of the terms of the last minute Brexit deal between the UK and the EU, which is clearly not fit for purpose. “

Andrew Tavener, Marketing Manager at Descartes UK, says the use of software could help transport companies manage delivery requests more effectively.

He says: ‘The shortage of heavy truck drivers in the UK is becoming increasingly worrying, with the perfect Brexit storm, Covid-19 and growing demands exacerbating the problem. There are many reports of the lack of qualified drivers creating difficulties for the logistics industry, which has serious repercussions on many different industries, including retail and manufacturing.

“Advanced route optimization software enables transport operators to use fewer vehicles to deliver more goods in fewer kilometers. These solutions ensure that today and in the future, companies will have fewer driver demands as they maximize the potential of their fleet.

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