The UK’s HGV driver shortage crisis is abating as new and returning drivers boost numbers, but without “urgent and sustained” action to improve driver pay, conditions and parking facilities the industry will continue to see significant churn, a new report from driver agency Driver Require warns this week.

The report points to latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) which show that almost 30,000 HGV drivers returned to driving in the third quarter of 2021, resulting in a 40% recovery of the drop in numbers experienced since the beginning of the pandemic.

The latest ONS Quarterly Labour Force results, from July to September 2021, released last week, reveal a rise in the total number of HGV delivery drivers from 233,000 in Q2 to 261,000 in Q3; an increase of 28,000 drivers, this being 40% of the Q2 70,000 drop relative to the pre-pandemic workforce of 301,000.

The figures reveal the largest increases are in the over 45-age range, with a rise of 22,788 in drivers aged between 45 to 65 years and an increase of 4,067 in drivers aged over 65 years, which the report attributes to improved wages and conditions attracting back many of the 53,000 over-45s who left the sector in Q1 2021.

The report also notes that around 5,000 HGV drivers joined the under 35-year-old workforce, which it says reflects the impact of the increased HGV testing capacity and throughput.

The figures also reveal that the number of drivers aged between 35 and 45 dropped by around 3,789 in the period and that just over 5,000 EU nationals returned to driving an HGV for a living, which the report believes largely came from other UK-based jobs.

The report adds: “We expect most of these would have been below the age of 45. This implies a net addition of approximately 10,000 HGV drivers below the age of 45, yet this age group only increased by a little over 1,000.

“We can conclude that about 9,000 HGV drivers left from the under-45 year-old group, leading us to suspect that employment conditions and a lack of suitable quality parking facilities is still causing drivers to abandon driving for a career.

“We are therefore optimistic that we have reached a turning point in the UK’s HGV driver shortage crisis and that the shortage is moving to “severe” rather than “crisis” levels. The government’s efforts to increase HGV testing capacity and throughput seem to be working and will continue to accelerate the numbers of new entrants to the sector over the coming months.”

However the report argues that more needs to be done if the fundamentals of the UK’s HGV driver shortage problem is to be addressed.

“We remain convinced that urgent and sustained concerted action is needed to address the poor employment conditions and the lack of adequate quality secure HGV parking facilities throughout the UK. Only this will prevent continued churn of HGV drivers out of the sector due to disillusionment with the poor-quality working environment.”

The report also calls on the government to take “urgent action” to tackle the backlog of HGV licence renewals. It compares Q2 and Q3 2021 driver levels with pre-pandemic levels, noting that the largest drop in driver numbers occurred in the 45 - 55 age group, which to date is a reduction of around 23,000.

The report states: “We suspect that renewal of medicals may be a factor preventing drivers, whose licence had expired, from returning to work in this age group. We believe that lots of HGV drivers have been told by the DVLA that they will have to wait many weeks for their licence renewal to be processed.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that many of these drivers are struggling to provide evidence of their HGV medical result and their DVLA licence renewal submission. Consequently, despite Section 88 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, we suspect that many haulage operators and agencies are refusing to allow expired HGV licence holders to drive until they receive their new licence card. We therefore recommend urgent action to address the backlog of HGV licence renewals.”