Why is there a lorry driver shortage in the UK? HGV drivers and the petrol shortage issue explained

Supermarket bosses have warned that driver shortages could lead to major issues in the supply chain which could last until Christmas

Customers may have noticed that shelves in many supermarkets and shops have looked quite bare in parts lately, partly as a result of a shortage of lorry drivers in the UK.

This issue has been rumbling on for some time, but has become more visible in the last week as it has impacted fuel deliveries, forcing some forecourts to close.

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Shortages have been going on for some time, but now the heads of a number of sectors have warned that a shortage of drivers could lead to major supply chain issues for the foreseeable future.

And with wine manufacturers the latest to sound the alarm on potential shortages come the festive season, we take a look at just what is going on.

Here is everything you need to know.

Why is there a shortage of lorry drivers?

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) has said there is a shortage of more than 100,000 drivers, from a pre-Covid total of 600,000 or so.

This has increased significantly, although there was a shortage of about 60,000 drivers prior to Covid, primarily because of changes to migration rules as a result of Brexit.

Because the UK is no longer part of the single market, in which HGV drivers can move across borders more freely, many European drivers have opted to work solely within EU countries.

The increased bureaucracy involved in travelling to and from the UK often means increased costs to drivers who are paid for distance, rather than time,

And changes to the UK’s tax regime post-Brexit can also mean working in the UK is less attractive for many HGV drivers.

The pandemic has also impacted the number of HGV drivers in the UK, with many European drivers who were still in the UK heading home because of travel restrictions.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said that disruption so far,  “has been minimal thanks to the incredible work by retailers and their suppliers”.

She said: “Retailers are increasing pay rates, offering bonuses and introducing new driver training schemes, as well as directly supporting their suppliers in the movement of goods, but Government will need to play its part.

“We are calling on the Government to rapidly increase the number of HGV driving tests taking place, provide temporary visas for EU drivers, and to make changes on how HGV driver training can be funded.”

The RHA has also stated that around 30,000 HGV tests couldn’t go ahead last year because of the pandemic, resulting in 25,000 fewer candidates passing the test in 2020 than in 2019.

Levels of pay in the industry are relatively low, with long hours, which has prompted a number of firms to publicise significantly increased rates of pay.

Drivers currently working in the industry report a number of other issues in the sector, such as declining access to, and quality of, facilities.

Additionally, the average age of an HGV driver in the UK is 55, so the industry has a high rate of retirements.

What impact does the HGV driver shortage have?

A shortage of HG V drivers is one of the primary causes of the ongoing fuel supply crisis, which has seen a number of petrol stations close or limit their supply in recent days.

Panic buyers have been queuing at garages around the country in a race to fill up their tanks, with some drivers filling up jerry cans from the early hours of Saturday (25 September) morning.

Esso, BP and Tesco forecourts have all been affected by petrol deliveries while The EG Group, which runs around 400 petrol stations across the UK under the BP, Esso and Texaco brands, has imposed a limit of £30 per customer to ensure everyone has a “fair chance to refuel”.

Alongside the fuel supply issue, the massive shortfall in lorry drivers is contributing to significant supply chain issues across the UK’s economy.

Some sectors have been experiencing difficulties for several months, however the issue seems to have become particularly acute in recent weeks.

A number of retailers have announced shortages of goods, while many industry bodies have warned that the supply chain crisis could persist until Christmas.

The bosses of Tesco and Iceland have both warned of big shortages, while the British Meat Processors Association warned that labour shortages could lead to a shortage of pigs in blankets over the holidays.

Speaking to the PA news agency, BMPA chief executive Nick Allen blamed the Government’s immigration policies for staffing challenges faced by many companies.

He told PA that on average BMPA members are around 12%-13% short on staff, with one company missing about a fifth of its workforce.

“Some of the pig processors are having to cut down on how many pigs they are processing a week so that’s starting to have an impact back on the farm.

“We are cutting back and prioritising lines and cutting out on things, so there just won’t be the totals of Christmas favourites like we are used to.”

Co-op chief executive Steve Murrells described the shortages as the worst he has ever seen.

The meatpacking and broader food processing industry is among the sectors suffering the most acute staffing issues, resulting in a number of shortages.

McDonald’s announced this month that milkshakes are no longer available in England, Scotland and Wales, while restaurant chain Nando’s has been among others in the sector facing shortages.

Is anything being done to resolve the shortage?

There have been reports that government is considering a relaxation of the current visa system for foreign workers to try and resolve the shortage.

Up to 5,000 temporary visas could be granted for HGV drivers and a similar number may be approved for food processing workers, particularly in the poultry industry, according to The Financial Times and the Telegraph.

Downing Street insisted on Friday (24 September) night that any measures introduced would be “very strictly time-limited”.

Reports suggest that the final sign-off for the plans could come over the weekend, although it is yet to be confirmed whether any decisions have been made.