The government is considering temporarily relaxing UK immigration rules to allow more foreign drivers into the country.
It has been reported that the Prime Minister has given ministers the green light to lift visa restrictions for a limited time to tackle the shortage of HGV drivers which is currently wreaking havoc on several UK industries.
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At a glance: 5 key points
- 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.
- The shortage of lorry drivers has caused havoc to petrol stations, with Esso, BP and Tesco forecourts all seeing disruption to petrol deliveries, causing shortages at some forecourts.
- Transport Secretary Grant Shapps promised earlier this week to “move heaven and earth” to get the situation solved.
What’s been said
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has warned that changes to the visa scheme had come too late for many.
He said: “The arrogance of Boris Johnson has cost jobs.
“He knew there was a fix to this problem but ploughed on regardless. He owes the British people an apology.”
His comments come as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) called for ministers to establish a taskforce on the same level as the Cobra emergency committee to deal with supply issues which have led to petrol forecourts closures and empty supermarket shelves.
Esso, BP and Tesco forecourts have been affected by getting petrol deliveries, with BP closing around 20 of its 1,200 petrol forecourts due to a lack of available fuel, while between 50 and 100 sites have been affected by the loss of at least one grade of fuel.
Esso owner ExxonMobil also said a “small number” of Tesco refilling stations have been impacted.
On Friday (24 September), the EG Group, which has around 400 petrol stations in the UK, said it was imposing a £30 limit on customers “due to the current unprecedented customer demand for fuel”.
After queues started to form outside some petrol stations across the country on Friday, the Transport Secretary was forced to try to dissuade drivers from panic-buying.
Tony Danker, CBI director-general, said: “After speaking with hundreds of business leaders this week, it’s clear there’s a total mindset shift from growing to coping.
“This is now a major threat to our recovery and the government needs to step up its response to a new level of both speed and boldness.
“Government is right to keep up the pressure on companies to adapt and not rely on immigration long term, but temporary visas are the only way to alleviate the disruption of shortages in critical skilled parts of the economy in weeks and months instead of years.
“Getting skills programmes right immediately is key to ensuring that these measures are only needed temporarily.”
Around one in six adults in Britain said they were not able to buy essential food items at some point over the past two weeks due to a lack of available products, according to a survey by the Office for National Statistics.
There have also been warnings that disruption to festive preparations will be “inevitable” if progress is not made to solve the shortfall of around 90,000 lorry drivers.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “We have ample fuel stocks in this country and the public should be reassured there are no shortages.
“But like countries around the world we are suffering from a temporary Covid-related shortage of drivers needed to move supplies around the country.
“We’re looking at temporary measures to avoid any immediate problems, but any measures we introduce will be very strictly time-limited.
“We are moving to a high-wage, high-skilled economy and businesses will need to adapt with more investment in recruitment and training to provide long-term resilience.”
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