From McDonald’s running out of milkshakes to Nando’s having no chicken, panic-buying at petrol forecourts to empty shelves in supermarkets, it’s been a tough few months for UK supply chains.
With the peak season for shopping and deliveries fast approaching, many people are wondering how these ongoing haulage issues will impact Christmas – which is now less than 7 weeks away.
Let’s take a look into the reasons for the lorry driver shortage and what is being done to resolve it.
What’s causing the HGV driver shortage in the UK?
According to the Road Haulage Association (RHA), the industry is suffering a shortage of 75,000 to 100,000 HGV drivers – a number that was already increasing before the pandemic due to Brexit.
Uncertainty over their rights to live and work in the UK led thousands of EU citizens to return to Europe every year. When COVID-19 hit, even more EU citizens returned to their countries of origin.
The majority of those who left the UK have not come back since, with the number of EU citizens working as HGV drivers in the UK falling by 14,000 since March 2020.
Additionally, lockdowns and social distancing resulted in a backlog of vocational driving tests. Only 15,000 new HGV drivers successfully completed tests in 2020, down from 40,000 in 2019.
The RHA also emphasises that drivers retiring without enough new recruits to replace them is exacerbating the problem. Around 2,000 drivers are leaving every week, with only 1,000 newcomers.
With the average age of a HGV driver being 55, and not enough young people training to go into the industry, maintaining and increasing the number of lorry drivers in the UK is difficult.
The lack of drivers is resulting in an ongoing build-up of containers at ports and delivery delays or cancellations, with not enough drivers to transport goods from warehouses to stores.
To help ease the strain, UK business bosses recommend that HGV drivers be added to the lists of essential and skilled workers, with better pay and more incentives to boost recruitment.
What is the government doing about the haulage crisis?
Since the UK government’s handling of Brexit and the pandemic is at least partially responsible for the shortage reaching this point, retailers and hauliers have been pleading for them to take action.
Improved testing and apprentice schemes are required to increase the number of qualified drivers in the British labour pool. In the meantime, better visas for EU workers will help to fill the gap.
In response to such requests, the Department for Transport has streamlined the HGV driving test process to allow new drivers to qualify faster (without reducing standards of competent driving).
The Department for Education is investing millions of pounds into HGV training courses, while the government intends to issue thousands of temporary visas for HGV drivers from the EU.
Under the temporary visa scheme, there are opportunities for 4,700 food haulage drivers, 5,500 poultry workers, and 800 pork butchers to work in the UK for the next few months.
The government is also extending ‘cabotage’ allowances, meaning that foreign drivers entering the UK can fulfil an unlimited number of deliveries within 2 weeks (previously 2 trips within 7 days).
Many of these changes are only temporary, while permanent structural improvements are necessary to maintain a long-term solution. Is it a case of too little, too late for Christmas 2021?
Will we be able to do all of our Christmas shopping this year?
With all of this going on and endless scaremongering on social media, it’s understandable that most of us are worried about what this crisis means for our Christmas celebrations.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), around 17% of adults reported being unable to buy essential food items in the previous 2 weeks, and 18% were unable to buy fuel.
For the most part, 57% of people have been able to buy what they need, but 65% reported differences in availability (including lack of variety and having to find a replacement product).
While the government measures above are likely to address food supplies, delays of at least 2-3 weeks in other delivery chains could impact the availability of other products.
Toy shops in particular are warning of expected shortages on their shelves this winter, so parents with young children are advised to source their Christmas presents as early as possible.
The ONS reports that 44% of adults are already purchasing Christmas toys, while 33% are ordering clothes, shoes, and accessories for Christmas earlier than they usually would.
As with previous periods of unwarranted panic-buying throughout the pandemic, it’s important to remember that there isn’t a shortage of actual goods – just a shortage of delivery drivers.
Start your Christmas shopping now if you haven’t already, and try to source gifts from physical shops rather than ordering online to reduce the strain on delivery drivers – but don’t stockpile!
Looking for road haulage services for Christmas 2021?
If you’re in need of freight transportation in the UK this winter, why not contact John K. Philips? From our base in North West England, close to seaports in Liverpool and airports in both Liverpool and Manchester, we can provide haulage services throughout Runcorn, Wigan, Warrington, and beyond.
Give the John K. Philips team a call on 01744 75100 and we’ll gladly discuss your requirements and do our best to help. Alternatively, you can submit detailed written enquiries through our online contact form, and a member of our team will be in touch. We look forward to hearing from you.