Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said he will use powers created under the Brexit Act to rush through new rules on HGV driving tests in a bid to tackle the ongoing shortage of drivers.
Mr Shapps said that he would bypass the usual 28-day publication period for “statutory instruments” in order to bring in changes to streamline the testing process.
The changes will allow drivers to sit an articulated lorry test (category C+E) without first having passed a rigid lorry test (category C). This should allow those training as HGV drivers to qualify more quickly.
The UK has been hit by a significant shortage of HGV drivers that led to the recent fuel crisis and is causing ongoing supply problems for supermarkets and other retailers.
Mr Shapps said tackling the shortage was a “top priority” for the Department for Transport, which was why he was using the “urgent procedure” measures under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to push through the statutory instrument which was laid before Parliament on Monday 18 October.
He said: “I am of the opinion that, by reason of urgency, the requirements for the statutory instrument to be made after being published in draft together with a scrutiny statement should not apply.
“Forgoing the 28-day publication period will allow earlier laying of the legislation than would have otherwise been possible and strengthen the steps we have already taken to increase testing capacity and ease supply chain issues as quickly as possible. Arrangements will be in place to ensure that the changes made by the legislation are operationally effective as soon as the legislation is in force.”
As well as streamlining the testing process, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has launched a recruitment drive to hire more examiners and started using military staff to oversee tests.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of HGV drivers employed in the UK has fallen by 53,000 in the last four years, with a marked acceleration in the drop since the start of the Covid pandemic.
The fall has been blamed on a combination of many drivers retiring, tax changes which affected earnings for self-employed drivers and Brexit rules which made it harder for foreign drivers to work in the UK.
Driving tests for HGVs fell to their lowest ever level for a decade during the pandemic, with just 16,022 practical driving tests passed, compared with an average of 41,731 a year during the previous five-year period.
Mr Shapps said the industry was also struggling to attract new staff due to anti-social hours, poor diversity, relatively low pay and poor driver facilities.