Road haulage and logistics is an essential but “forgotten” industry that government must do more to support if it is to address its skills shortages and help drive the post-Covid-19 economic recovery, according to Sir Mike Penning MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on road freight and logistics. But a separate survey of training providers carried out in May by Skills for Logistics has found that the training industry’s ability to resume HGV driver training after the lockdown may be severely restricted as many companies are in serious financial difficulties.

When Sir Mike set up the APPG in 2018 one of his key goals was to get government to listen to an industry that often feels ignored and unrecognised, and just before the coronavirus pandemic struck, the group held a major inquiry into what needs to be done to raise its profile both in Parliament and among the wider public. This found that 64% of logistics firms have severe skills shortages and that the industry needs an extra 59,000 drivers.

Since this report was compiled an MT poll of fleet operators found that most expect the driver shortage will ease after the Covid-19 lockdown as the industry consolidates, the economy stagnates and the trend towards online shopping continues.

In his report on the results of the inquiry, ‘Keeping Britain moving’, senior Conservative backbencher and former transport minister Sir Mike pulled no punches and set out a long list of actions he wants to see from government - and industry – to take advantage of the higher profile of the road freight transport industry during pandemic to recruit and train more homegrown drivers.

“It is widely accepted that there is no single cause for the shortage,” he wrote. “Instead, it arises from a combination of factors including the Apprenticeship Levy not working effectively, poor mental and physical health outcomes for drivers, poor roadside facilities and the relative attractiveness of other careers.

“By understanding the experiences of industry have we been able to put forward exactly what steps must be taken to ensure that drivers can continue to meet current and future demand.

“I am pleased that the secretary of state for transport Grant Shapps MP has taken these issues seriously since his appointment last summer…as we look to measures to help the industry and our economy recover from the impacts of Covid-19 it is essential that we work together to address the things that can hold back the industry from playing its full role in our

economic recovery.

“Therefore, this report should be used as a roadmap for policymakers and industry leaders that are committed to reversing the driver shortage.”

Recommendations for government:

• The DfT) must support the industry to make a career in the industry more attractive to school leavers, by promoting the value and importance of the industry

• The DfT should overhaul the Driver CPC and empower and motivate drivers through improved training and recognition and including modules on mental and physical health

• Review and reform the motorway and road network facilities available to drivers is essential

• The Department for Education must urgently overhaul the Apprenticeship Levy which fails meet the needs of the industry

• The Ministry of Defence should work better with industry to ensure that military leavers receive better signposting and support in their transition into careers within freight and logistics, many of whom hold HGV licences

• HGV drivers and skilled warehouse operatives should be added to the shortage occupation list to ensure that the sector can recruit and retain workers to meet the demand

Recommendations for industry:

• Do more to promote respect for drivers

• Continue to push for more high-quality parking facilities on the road network and better working environments at terminals

• Improve the training it offers and do more around career progression for drivers

Sir Mike concluded: “It is essential that the government’s recovery plans take account of the need for real and lasting change in the haulage industry including putting in place the measures to tackle the driver shortage. This must include promoting the benefits of a career within the sector and addressing the negative perception of the sector along with ensuring that improvements are made to the driver’s facilities across the road network.

“The haulage industry will be vital to our economic recovery and we may well see an increase in skilled workers looking to join the industry in the coming months, but the government must take the opportunity to tackle the root causes of the driver shortage and place the haulage industry on a stronger footing.”

However a survey of 61 training providers by Skills for Logistics has found that almost a fifth of companies were concerned that the lockdown would reduce their ability to resume training at their previous capacity with a further 5% saying the pandemic could even threaten their survival.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the DVSA suspended nearly all driving tests including LGV from 19 March until at least 22 June. This date is subject to change and when tests resume it is proposed that DVSA examiners will reduce their workload from four to three LGV tests per day.

In March all LGV training ceased, training centres were closed and staff laid off or furloughed. Some training providers have already entered administration and others are suffering financial hardship.

Prior to Covid-19 the DVSA conducted on average of 1,500 LGV tests a week so, at an average pass rate of 60%, around 1,000 newly qualified drivers a week are being lost in the shutdown. This is on top of the existing shortage of 59,000 drivers and a potential 20,000 more that may be not working for reasons connected with Covid-19.

The 61 training providers surveyed trained over 1,000 drivers a week to test standard in 76 centres with a mix of 540 employed, part-time and associate instructors and a fleet of 580 training vehicles.

The current position of those training providers is:

• 100% of LGV training has ceased

• 96% of all LGV instructors have been furloughed

• 4% of LGV instructors have been made redundant

Providers were asked about their degree of confidence that their LGV training business can resume operations and meet the likely increase in demand when DVSA testing resumes. Three quarters (77%) were moderately to very confident about the outlook and will be ready to return to pre-pandemic volumes or greater. Three providers were doubtful about their chances of survival with 18% suggesting that their business will be adversely affected in a way that would reduce their capacity to deliver.

“We felt it was particularly important to engage directly with the 150 plus LGV training providers across the UK, by whether the LGV training sector can bounce back to tackle the back log of 20,000 and rising lost driving tests,” said Skills for Logistics MD David Coombes. “Their levels of confidence were based on a full resumption of testing on 22 June, and if there is any delay in resumption of testing beyond 22 June the outlook would be entirely different.”