Government plans aimed at tackling the HGV driver shortage crisis which stop short of issuing temporary visas to foreign drivers have been given a muted welcome by the haulage industry.
In a statement issued today (20 July) the government said it is not planning to add HGV drivers to the Shortage Occupation List, despite increasing delivery problems across the supply chain.
It insisted that the UK labour market has changed “dramatically” due to the economic impact of the measures necessary to tackle Covid-19, adding: “Many UK-based workers now face an uncertain future and need to find new employment opportunities. We recognise the importance of utilising our domestic workforce and how our migration policies need to be considered alongside our strategies for the UK labour market.”
Instead, the government has set out a basket of measures which sees the industry and government departments join forces to support HGV driver recruitment.
Measures include the launch of a consultation on allowing drivers to take one test to drive both an articulated and rigid lorry. This would allow some learner lorry drivers to proceed to take the articulated lorry driver practical test without needing to pass their rigid lorry test first. Medical requirements and the theory test for HGV driving would be unaffected.
The government said it will be consulting about this proposal shortly. The aim is to streamline the process for new drivers to gain their HGV licence and increase lorry test appointment availability.
The consultation will look at allowing private sector trainers to examine drivers for off-road manoeuvres in the HGV driving test. It will also look at whether specific car and trailer tests should be required.
The government said the proposal to allow the manoeuvre element of HGV tests to be tested by private sector trainers will free up DVSA examiners to deliver five tests a day rather than the current four.
Announcing the measures, transport secretary Grant Shapps MP, pictured, thanked the road haulage industry for its hard work during the pandemic.
He said: “I understand the challenges faced by drivers and operators right now, and while longer-term solutions must be led first and foremost by industry leaders, today we are saying this government is here to help.
“This set of measures will kickstart that help, easing pressure on the sector as we work together to attract new drivers, improve conditions and ensure the industry’s future is a prosperous one.”
The government has also pledged to help the road haulage sector improve the driver working conditions by providing more and better official lorry parking spaces.
It will also lend support to an industry-led Year of Logistics aimed at attracting a wider demographic of drivers into the sector.
Secretary of state for work and pensions Therese Coffey MP said: “As part of our Plan for Jobs, we are helping people gain the skills and experience needed to take up opportunities in the haulage sector, including access to key training, and our Jobcentres are playing a vital role in matching jobseekers with the right roles in the sector.”
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The Department for Work and Pensions is also developing a new driver training pilot through Jobcentre Plus to bring job-seekers into the industry.
Local government will also be urged to be flexible around delivery times to supermarkets and other retailers, allowing drivers to make deliveries earlier in the morning or later in the evening where necessary.
Environment secretary George Eustice MP hailed the sector's “tireless” efforts to protect the supply chain during the pandemic, and said the basket of measures proves the government is committed to supporting the logistics industry, which closely follow the recent relaxation of drivers’ hours and supermarket delivery hour restrictions.
However the government announcement emphasised that the temporary relaxation of drivers’ hours rules “must only be used where necessary” and must not compromise driver safety.
Despite these safety concerns, the government has not ruled out extending the 12-week relaxation of the rules, which began on 12 July.
The government said: “The extension may be put in place for longer under different legal powers. Evidence will be sought from representative bodies and other government departments shortly to enable a decision to be made quickly.”
The RHA responded to the measures by reiterating its call for HGV drivers to be put on the Home Office Shortage Occupation List, as an immediate short-term measure to allow industry to work towards longer-term fixes.
RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said: “This is a step in the right direction long-term, but it doesn’t address the critical short-term issues we’re facing. The problem is immediate, and we need to have access to drivers from overseas on short-term visas. The idea to simplify training and speed up testing is welcome; along with encouraging recruitment it will only improve things in a year or two’s time.”
Elizabeth De Jong, Logistics UK policy director, said the measures need concrete targets and timelines to help the industry recruit more drivers.
She said: “It is good to see the urgent focus placed by government on increased HGV driver testing with DVSA, as this is currently the biggest blocker to new entrants entering the workforce but without targets and a workable timeline, this is simply a statement of intent.
“We need to know how soon the backlog of 25,000 test passes can be cleared more swiftly by the DVSA, as we estimate at current rates this will take 27 weeks - until the end of January 2022.
“We welcome proposals for reform of the vocational driving test process to increase test capacity– but it will take time to make the necessary changes to legislation, and for it to be implemented on the ground, before the full benefit can be felt.”