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Logistics companies are reporting signs that the HGV driver shortage crisis may have turned a corner this month.

However some cautioned that, unless wage rises are maintained and facilities improved, the easing of the crisis could be short lived.

Reports of a rise in the availability of drivers follow moves by industry to attract new drivers and those that had quit the sector, with wage hikes, bonuses and more flexible shift patterns, alongside government schemes such as the recent Skills Bootcamps and the fast tracking of HGV driving tests.

Steve Granite, Abbey Logistics chief executive, told MT believes the situation is stabilising. “It seems to have settled down. It is still not ideal. I would still like to employ more drivers but it has definitely improved.

“Last year there was a massive churn as different customers reacted to the shortage at different times but that seems to have settled down and now that the rates have gone up it seems much more stable.”

Lesley O’Brien, director of Freightlink Europe, has also seen the job market settle this month. “Drivers have stopped jumping from company to company chasing the rates. However we have also had drivers having to self-isolate this month, so that hasn’t helped.”

She added that whereas in the past few months she could not get through to driver agencies because of the level of demand, she now finds that agencies are getting in touch with her to offer drivers.

Andrew Malcolm, chief executive of the Malcolm Group, told MT driver numbers are also rising north of the border. “We are actually seeing a good improvement since the last quarter of 2021 and generally we are in a better position this January, so I think it is definitely getting better.

“However we were not significantly short of drivers. What we are seeing is that those drivers who took advantage of inflated agency rates are now leaving agencies and looking for longer-term stability.”

Andy Gibson, fleet manager at Chiltern Distribution said efforts to recruit HGV drivers has had a significant response. In a tweet this week, he said: “You should see the amount of interest/applicants following our recent recruitment,” adding that he was struggling to keep up with the number of applicants and get back to them all.

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Gibson was responding to a report from Pallet-Track chief executive Caroline Green this week, noting that the pressures on driver numbers were easing.

She said: “We had a frenzy of activity and shortages around September, caused by people still being on holiday, the ‘pingdemic’ and ongoing issues caused by Covid-19 and Brexit all exacerbating the underlying industry issues.

“But we have definitely seen the noise decrease since then for a number or reasons, not least the significant pay increases that have been widely implemented. Things have settled down and we are seeing more tests coming through.”

Europa Worldwide chief Andrew Baxter said he believes the driver shortage will correct itself in the first quarter of this year.

“There is always a significant demand for drivers in December, but when you take that extra 15% out, then by January there are enough drivers. However it is good to see more newly trained drivers are now coming through which will ensure there are enough for the next peak season,” he said.

Kieran Smith, MD of specialist driver agency Driver Require Group, told MT the company is recruiting “strongly”. He believes that recent increases in driver numbers are not just a result of the seasonal fall in January volumes fed by hauliers letting agency drivers go after the Christmas peak.

“It is both seasonal and a case of the permanent driver pool being enhanced with new passes that are starting to come through,” Smith explained.

However, he said maintaining driver numbers has to be a long-term strategy. “What we do not want is Groundhog Day. The government, by putting all this extra capacity into the training and testing system, may well be creating its own Sorcerer's Apprentice.

“If there is an over-supply that floods the market, then the government could cut its training programme, wages could drop and everyone could start treating the drivers as commodities again, and before you know it we will be back where we started,” he warned.