The RHA has warned that heavy reliance on overseas HGV drivers poses a risk to the long-term resilience of the UK road transport sector, and takes money out of the UK economy.

Speaking at a Transport Committee workforce skills inquiry, RHA director of policy Jack Semple (pictured) said there were approximately 60,000 foreign drivers working in the UK. He estimated the UK economy loses £180m a year when these drivers send money to their home countries, based on each driver sending an average of £3,000 a year from the UK.

He said the drivers are predominantly from eastern Europe, but Portugal was becoming a popular place to recruit from.

Semple told MPs there needs to be more encouragement and support to recruit and train UK workers. Even smaller businesses that are managing to train up their own drivers have “constraints to the extent they can do this”.

He said: “We are getting no incentive at all to change the pattern that has become ingrained. The pattern is we go to eastern Europe, or we look elsewhere, to other companies.

“We need to do more, and I think the government has a role to play in this, to encourage companies to train UK people to drive in this essential industry.”

Semple said that while local pockets of training and funding were available, this was still piecemeal and more needed to be done to encourage the industry as a whole, “which is not just about very large operators – in fact it’s mostly about SMEs,” he added.

Colin Snape, HR manager at Nagel Langdons, also told MPs that the company had been able to take significant steps to buck the trend and keep its driver pool healthy, such as higher wages and improved benefits.

However, he warned the knock-on effect of larger companies continuing to increase wages could leave SMEs struggling to compete and retain their drivers.

Hermes Europe chief operations officer Martijn de Lange said that if driver wages continued to soar, the sector could become uncompetitive. The driver shortage was a ticking timebomb likely to get worse if a collective effort was not taken now to tackle the issue, he added.