It is very well known that one of the reasons why the country is currently dealing with the HGV driver crisis is Brexit.
Many businesses have been affected, and almost all industries within the country are dealing with supplies shortage.
Even though there are voices saying that Brexit is undoubtedly a factor that caused many of the issues the country is facing, Boris Johnson’s administration was constantly focused on leaving the EU and so Brexit cannot be shown to have negative consequences.
“There is a global shortage of labour,” the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, declared. “In the US for example, they’re hiring drivers from South Africa. So to just say this is just an issue of Brexit is completely untrue.”
Even if other countries are dealing with workforce shortages, the situation in the UK is a little bit different: products going missing from the shelves, vital medical equipment running short, painful decisions about water treatment.
Many HGV drivers in the UK were Eastern European. They started to leave the UK shortly after the Brexit vote.
Then the pandemic hit and even more left, in order to be close to their families. While they were away, the free movement ended, a new immigration system came into force and many found it hard to return.
However, Brexiters insisted that domestic labour would make up for what we lost in foreign labour, but the pandemic has changed the situation. According to EU regulations, which the UK also adopted post-Brexit, HGV drivers need to go through extensive training. They start with Cat C training for smaller vehicles, then move on to Cat C+E training for larger, articulated vehicles. But during Covid, the training programs were canceled, blocking a potential incoming workforce of 30,000 drivers. There is now a nine-week wait until the first test.
The only solution offered so far is to focus on the domestic workforce. The Department for Transport recently started a consultation on how it might do that. It proposed that potential drivers be allowed to skip the Cat C training and move straight on to Cat C+E.
Many drivers enjoy their job. But there are severe downsides. Service stations typically only offer fast food, meaning your diet can become profoundly unhealthy. The toilets are usually in terrible condition. Drivers pay to park overnight on a layby where they sleep in their lorry. The shower facilities are often so disgusting they refuse to use them.
These things can be fixed. Germany and France, for instance, offer much better services, which are often free. But it takes time, money, and consideration, all of which are in short supply.
In reality, the solution to the crisis will require a broad approach: more foreign workers, better conditions, and some streamlining of the training process. The Government does not have the political will to pursue the first or the capacity for sustained effort demanded by the second. It seems willing to pursue the third because it provides a pro-Brexit narrative.
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