Aztek Logistics MD Stuart Charter (pictured) assesses the logistics sector's existential crisis
As a regional, national and international haulier, we have always been able to respond to the ebb and flow of customer demand by flexing our mix of directly-employed and agency drivers, a state of affairs that remains the case for our long- and medium-term planning.
However, we’ve recently been challenged by temporary, short-term driver demand, higher volumes and drivers taking their first well-earned holidays of the year compounded by the fact that agencies no longer have access to the pool of drivers they once could rely on.
This is very much a sign of the times, as shown in the recent Logistics UK report, which highlighted the existential driver shortage facing the industry. For many years, there has been a shortfall of between 50,000 and 70,000 drivers, depending on which industry report you read.
However, these forming clouds have turned into a perfect storm in recent months and there is little in the way of settled weather on the economic horizon.
Firstly, the reality of Brexit turning off the regular flow of recruitment of drivers from the EU with many simply going home.
Secondly, the difficulty in recruitment has been compounded by bureaucratic complexity. The HMRC’s IR35 regulations, which came into force in April, have changed the regulations around self-employed drivers making it harder for businesses to recruit experienced drivers.
Thirdly, for those home-grown drivers coming into the industry, there is a major backlog of driving tests caused by Covid-19 and the long wait has forced many to seek alternative employment from their chosen careers.
This is on top of other barriers to entry including the divisive CPC regulations, where driver competence has to be re-assessed every five years, a ‘faff factor’ that had driven many experienced drivers – those the sector is so desperate to retain – out of the industry.
There is also a movement away from working long hours and long distances, sleeping in cabs or in motorway service areas - or worse, in lay-bys - because of the UK’s acute shortage of secure parking areas.
And all of this is all happening at a time when volumes are going through the roof, partly as a result of Covid-19 and the re-opening of the economy.
As a member of Pallet-Track, our volumes have escalated over the last year with the network outperforming other members of the APN, but the driver crisis is not helping.
Pallet-Track’s #HoorayforHauliers campaign, launched earlier this year, raised awareness of these issues at a time when drivers were ironically being heralded as ‘key workers’ keeping the wheels of industry turning.
As an industry we need to be a voice talking truth to power by asking government to review some of its regulations, so they are joined-up rather than contradictory and counter-intuitive to what we are trying to achieve.
As we assess the long-term scar tissue left by Covid-19, we must keep perspective and acknowledge that we are a sector that is critical to the post-pandemic economic recovery and recognition of that fact should be reflected in government thinking.