Customers are dealing with low stock, rising prices, and long delivery times, as big retailers are trying to secure drivers to arrange Christmas deliveries.
Some consumers are already noticing the implications of the nationwide driver crisis, as there is low stock on the supermarket shelves, due to companies struggling to find drivers to collect the goods from the suppliers.
A wide range of sectors are being affected, not just the supermarkets, as all retailers rely on drivers transporting their goods.
Regarding the base of this crisis, there are many factors to be considered, however, one of the main reasons noticed is the rising age of the workforce. There are many older drivers working in the industry, and not enough younger recruits to replace the drivers that are retiring.
It seems that low pay is another facto and drivers are saying the working conditions are both poor and unsafe, this being another reason to leave or avoid the industry.
Eventually, Brexit exposed these issues and showed how important the foreign workforce had been for the transport industry. After the 1st of January, many EU drivers returned to their home countries and left haulage companies struggling with the massive shortage.
“We’re looking at a serious problem at Christmas,” said Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy and public affairs at the RHA. “We are losing more lorry drivers week on week than we are gaining.”
According to Rob McKenzie, around 2,000 drivers are leaving the industry every week, most of them due to retirement, but only about 1,000 new recruits are joining the workforce in that same timeframe.
Even if enough people were recruited, it would be extremely hard to have them all trained and ready to work by the end of the year. Usually, it takes 12 weeks to get a C1 driving license, which allows drivers to operate on a 7.5t vehicle, however, now it would take around 16 weeks, due to the pandemic backlog.
“The shortage of HGV drivers is likely going to lead to delays for Christmas shoppers purchasing items online, [and] they may struggle to find what they need in-store,” predicted Alex Hersham, CEO of logistics firm Zencargo.
The Government has announced there are some new measures considered to improve the situation, for instance allowing the driver to take only one test which will certificate them to handle both rigid and articulated vehicles, in this way increasing the availability of test slots. The Government is also considering relaxing drivers’ hour rules- an idea that hasn’t been received very well by those within the industry, for safety reasons.
However, it will take a while for the improvements to appear, as per Alex Hersham’s statement. “We expect this to continue up until the Christmas peak which, even in normal years, puts an enormous strain on the supply chain,” he added.
Customers have been advised by some logistics experts to start the Christmas shopping earlier than usual, to make sure they can purchase and receive their goods on time. “I don’t think there will be an issue finding presents for Christmas [generally] but there might be issues if you are looking for something specific,” said Emile Naus, a partner at the consulting firm BearingPoint and formerly head of logistics strategy at Marks and Spencer. “If you want something specific, you should buy it early.”
Les Twitchen, from Buckinghamshire, has worked as an HGV driver for more than 20 years. He believes the financial incentives being offered by larger firms are merely a “sticking plaster” and will not prevent shortages in shops this Christmas.“The big incentives are a temporary sticking plaster. They don’t breed loyalty…As soon as someone else offers more money, drivers will go there. You’re just moving drivers around,” he said.
The Government refused several calls to offer EU drivers visas to allow them to work in the UK to help the industry with this crisis, saying firms should find British workers to fill vacancies.
But Mr Twitchen believes foreign workers must be allowed back if the industry is to recover: “The country has dug itself a big hole for the industry to fall into with Brexit,” he said. “Without [EU drivers] I don’t see us getting out of it.”
Larger retailers have begun offering substantial “golden hellos” to persuade drivers to sign up with them in the coming weeks. Drivers who join Tesco before the end of September will receive a £1,000 bonus, while John Lewis has boosted salaries by £5,000.
“The issue will potentially be the additional logistics costs and if we see any [price] rises – if that can that be absorbed and not passed on to consumers,” said Andrew Opie of the British Retail Consortium, which represents thousands of retail businesses. Mr. Opie declared it is “too early to say” if the driver shortage would leave shoppers with limited options when making Christmas purchases and stressed that retailers were making the appropriate preparations. “Any well-run business will have logistics at the top of their agenda and will be looking to secure their fleets,” he said.
The Department for Transport said: “We recently announced a package of measures to help tackle the HGV driver shortage. (…) We have no plans to introduce a short-term visa for HGV drivers. Employers should invest in our domestic workforce instead of relying on labor from abroad.
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