House of Lords

The logistics industry has lashed out at government claims that hauliers ignored government warnings to prepare for the driver shortage for five years.

The accusation was made by transport minister Baroness Vere in a House of Lord’s debate on the subject. Vere said: “I have been roads minister now for two years, and I had this conversation [about driver shortages] with the haulage sector two years ago.

“The TSC [Transport Select Committee] issued a report in 2016, pointing out exactly what the sector needed to do to address the shortage it had then, and yet still not enough has been done.”

She said hauliers had saved millions of pounds from the government suspending the HGV levy last year, adding that this should be put into training more drivers.

Baroness Vere’s comments were made shortly after the government moved to extend drivers’ hours last week to tackle the mounting driver shortage crisis which is increasingly delaying the delivery of essential goods and food to supermarket shelves and forcing hauliers to mothball trucks.

RHA MD of policy, Rod McKenzie, accused Baroness Vere of trying to lay the blame for the driver shortage at the haulage industry’s feet.

He said: “We find Baroness Vere’s comments extremely unhelpful and likely to engender more hostility from our members who already see government as complacent in tackling the driver shortage.

“We all have our roles to play, including the industry, but only government can pull the levers to change the apprenticeship system and bring about a temporary work visa system, as we have outlined in our 12 point plan to resolve the shortage.”

He added that it was “simplistic” to say that hauliers could use money saved from the levy to fund driver training, when they also faced rising costs and the need to upgrade their fleets in the face of policies such as the Direct Vision Standard and clean air zones.

The RHA remains opposed to the extension of drivers hours, warning that it puts drivers and the public at risk and describing the move as “nothing mre than a sticking plaster.”

Logistics UK also weighed into the row today, calling the minister’s claims “misleading”. It also accused the government of failing to act on the recommendations the association made to the Transport Select Committee in 2016.

Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at Logistics UK, said: “To say that the industry has not done enough to solve the current driver recruitment crisis is misleading, particularly in light of the sacrifices which the sector has made to keep UK PLC stocked during the pandemic.

“Industry is working at unprecedented pace to recruit and train new drivers. There are wage increases across much of the sector, which is to be expected when there is short supply and high demand. The industry funds a wide range of promotion and outreach activity to encourage potential recruits. We need government to match our commitment to resolving this issue.

“Baroness Vere said that the Transport Select Committee report from 2016 included several actions to for industry to address the issue. However, our submission to that committee inquiry asked for many of the same solutions from government that we are still campaigning for today.

“For instance, in 2016 we asked for government to make HGV Driver and other Level 2 courses eligible under the Advanced Learner Loan. We also urged government to provide safe and secure parking spaces to give people additional confidence to enter the sector. Six years on, we are no further forward on either of these requests.

“HGV driving is one of the most heavily regulated, highly technical vocational careers in the economy, yet government continues to downplay the skills required. Training loans or grants for level 2 qualifications such as HGV driving would be an ideal step towards opening up a career in professional driving to those currently unemployed or seeking a new role.

"Logistics UK has been asking government to address the lack of suitable rest stops for drivers for more than five years, and our sector needs to see action on this now. Office-based workers take for granted the opportunity to use accessible, clean hygiene facilities during the working day, so why should we deny our HGV drivers the same access? No one would want to join a sector where you are forced to take legally mandated breaks in unsafe locations. It is time for the government to deliver on its 2018 promises to deliver these spaces.”