Logistics UK is calling for the government to urgently tackle the driver shortage crisis by providing financial support for HGV driver training, reforming the Apprenticeship Levy and prioritising HGV driver tests cancelled due to Covid restrictions.

The call follows the publication this week of Logistics UK’s Skills and Employment Report 2020, which reveals that there were 20,500 fewer HGV drivers in Q2 2020, a reduction of 6.7% year-on-year.

The report also reveals that the number of EU and UK HGV drivers in the country fell by 14,275 (36.3%) and 4,000 (1.5%) respectively, in the period.

Concern is also raised in the report at the falling number of logistics apprenticeships. It points to government figures which show that while the “transportation and storage” sector paid £155m (6%) into the apprenticeship levy in 2018/19, the number of transport apprenticeships started in the last five years is less than half the original 30,000 target set by Government in 2015.

The report adds: “Figures indicate there were 12,721 new logistics apprenticeship starts in 2018/19 in England. Year-on-year, the overall number of logistics apprenticeship starts fell by 15%, while data for Wales show the number of logistics apprenticeship starts fell by 5.1% in the same period.”

Whilst the report notes that the government announced in the latest spending review that from August next year employers will be able to transfer unspent levy funds in bulk to SMEs, Logistics UK said more needs to be done to drive up apprenticeship numbers.

Logistics UK said the report highlights “the severe impact” of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic on the sector’s underlying skills shortage.

Elizabeth de Jong, Logistics UK director of policy, said: “The combined forces of Brexit and Covid-19 have exposed the structural issues with the logistics labour market, with Logistics UK’s Skills and Employment Report 2020 revealing that 79,000 members of the workforce – EU workers – have left the country in the past 12 months, leaving a significant skills gap.

“With a total shortage of 76,000 HGV drivers alone, Logistics UK is urging the government to take immediate action to address the long-term structural issues with the labour market to enable UK workers to step in and fill these vacancies to ensure the UK can keep trading.

Jong called on the government to provide funding to assist with the costs of driver qualifications through interest-free loans or grants, reforms to the Apprenticeship Levy that allow businesses to unlock funding, and improvements to driver facilities to make the career more attractive.

She added: “In addition, DVSA must overturn its decision to halt all HGV driving tests during the Covid-19 pandemic. The time for talk is over: the government must act now on these issues to secure the future of logistics.”