RHA research has revealed that the long-predicted driver shortage is now severely affecting operators as they gear up for the Christmas peak.

According to a poll of its members, both subcontractors and agency drivers are in short supply: 96.4% of respondents said they had difficulty in sourcing agency drivers, while 85% found subcontractors hard to come by.

RHA chief executive Geoff Dunning told MT this is the first time the industry has been able to quantify the shortage of subbies and agency drivers.

“I am genuinely concerned it is going to be a nightmare if you haven’t got the drivers you need in the next few months,” he said.

The survey also reinforced the problem of an ageing driver workforce, revealing 54% of drivers are aged 41 to 60, with a further 19% aged over 60 and less than 5% aged under 25.

Dunning said: “If you haven’t got your own drivers and you can’t bring in agency drivers, then you subcontract the work. But if there’s nobody out there to subcontract it to, it’s a problem the industry hasn’t had before.

“We’ve occasionally had shortages of drivers, but if the subbies aren’t there, then operators are going to be struggling in the run up to Christmas.”

He said that the latest Traffic Commissioners’ report showed a 4% decline in the number of O-licences in operation from the previous year, but, more importantly, the number of vehicles per fleet has increased. “So the average size of companies has gone up. The number of smaller operators has shrunk and they are the ones that traditionally have ended up with the subbing work, and if they aren’t there, people will find it difficult,” Dunning added.

The RHA plans to take the research to Rob Flello, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Freight, when parliament returns this month to persuade the government to help the industry.

“If we’re not careful, the lack of transport in the UK will be an inhibitor to economic growth,” he said.

“The evidence we have is more than enough to demonstrate that there will be a problem in the next few months,which will only get worse because the 41 to 60 age group is so large.”