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Government plans for “unfettered cabotage” will be “shockingly damaging” to the UK haulage industry and undermine the progress being made to tackle the UK’s driver shortage, the RHA warned MPs this week.

Speaking at a Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee hearing yesterday (19 October) on the impact of supply chain delays on businesses and consumers, RHA national policy director Duncan Buchanan warned against government plans to change the cabotage rules to help tackle the driver shortage.

The plans to temporarily extend cabotage rights for foreign firms, set out in a consultation which closes tomorrow (21 October), would allow foreign hauliers to make an unlimited number of trips in the UK within a two-week period before returning home. Under current cabotage rules non-UK hauliers are allowed to make two trips in seven days.

Buchanan told the committee of MPs that the proposals would allow non-UK trucks to be based almost permanently in the UK with the lorries only needing to be taken into France every two weeks for a short while to ensure they comply with the new cabotage rules.

“The government proposal is to give non-UK hauliers unfettered access to the UK market,” he warned, adding: “Our minimum wage will not be applied, there will be no taxes paid here, no contribution to enforcement and we will find that UK companies will be competing with European companies with far lower cost bases and making zero contribution to the UK in terms of tax and national insurance.”

He added: “Worse still it will undermine some of the things that are now encouraging drivers here to come back. Some UK workers are being attracted back into the industry because of the wage increases we have seen. This, in one fell swoop, will destroy their confidence in coming back into the industry.”

Asked by MPs what action the government should take on the driver shortage Buchanan said: “Instead of importing drivers with their lorries, visa free, who pay no tax and make no contribution to enforcement in this country, we should import that labour and employ them properly under a visa scheme and have them pay tax here, have them pay NI here, have UK businesses make the profits and pay the taxes here.

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“With this form of cabotage you are off-shoring everything overseas to low wage markets with zero enforcement of minimum wage rules. This proposal for cabotage is shockingly damaging and undermines medium- and long-term improvements. This is the wrong tool for the job,” he said.

He also called for the government to act on proposals made by the haulage industry to change CPC rules to encourage drivers back into the industry and called for an efficient, workable visa system.

“Nothing has been done on Driver CPC, nothing has been done to get those drivers back. The impediments are still there. We should fix and reform the driver CPC, number one. Secondly we should have proper visa rules so UK companies paying UK taxes and national insurance are allowed to import labour appropriately under a visa scheme that has controlled numbers rather than zero control on cabotage numbers.”

He warned MPs: “You talk about a lorry parking problem. This is going to make the parking problems in Kent and Essex even worse. These guys will be over here and they will be parked up waiting for a job.”

Buchanan also strongly refuted claims by Europa Worldwide chief executive Andrew Baxter, raised by the Committee, that RHA had leaked confidential information from a Cabinet Office meeting in which BP said it was closing some petrol stations due to the shortage of tanker drivers. Baxter was repeating claims made by a “senior government source” two weeks ago in a Daily Mail article.

“That is untrue. The accusation that my boss (RHA policy MD Rod McKenzie) leaked information from a meeting with Cabinet Office I can guarantee you is wrong. One hundred percent, unequivocally, he did not leak information from that meeting because he did not even have the information from that meeting. I did but I was there and I did not leak it. So there is some serious misinformation and game playing going on,” Buchanan said.

Asked what had caused the tension between RHA and the government he said: “There has been a misperception we are anti-Brexit and hostile to the government. We are not. We held a survey before Brexit which showed 65% of our members were pro-Brexit. So we did not take a position as an organization on Brexit.

He added: “We are so over Brexit, we just want to fix things, we want our economy and our haulage industry to work effectively. This is not about Remain or Leave. We have just trying to work through the problems and create solutions for our members and broader society.”