It’s a long haul but transport industry is helping to drive Scotland

Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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Efforts are being made to find HGV drivers, says Martin Reid

Scotland faces a growing crisis in an industry that is the lifeblood of the economy – road haulage. The industry’s increasing shortage of HGV drivers is challenging haulage businesses, but it should be a serious concern to everyone.

Service levels and reliability are starting to be undermined so that transport looks like a weakness in the supply chain. Haulage customers become increasingly nervous, with good reason. Economic growth – a key government objective – is undermined.

Long-term under-investment in training people and changing social attitudes has led to an ageing workforce and people leaving the industry faster than we are recruiting. The shortage has hit hard at an industry that has never really faced the issue before. It is a problem that we see not only in Scotland but throughout the UK and Europe.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) is addressing the crisis as its urgent priority. We are working at UK national level but, also, it is important for Scotland to come up with its own solutions. The RHA wants to attract government funding for firms towards the cost of getting new entrants licensed and qualified to drive. Without that, we will continue to see the shortage worsen and we will continue to increase our reliance on drivers from abroad.

Chancellor George Osborne at first turned a deaf ear but in the March Budget he at least acknowledged a problem. Now he must be persuaded that he is part of the solution and that grants to companies are both essential and appropriate, at a time when deficit reduction is his key priority. We want Osborne to support industry efforts. We cannot expect him to help an industry that is not willing to make an effort itself.

At the RHA, we are urging the industry to review how it perceives and projects itself. We have set out new guidance on how to recruit new candidates effectively and we are working to promote the industry. And we have a groundbreaking UK-wide project with Jobcentre Plus, the government organisation tasked with getting jobless people back to work.

The JCP project involves putting suitable candidates together with RHA members to get work experience in the industry. The RHA has briefed JCP managers on what members are looking for. Truth is, hauliers saw what people could do whom, based on a CV, they would not have interviewed.

We are promoting recruitment of young people, educating both hauliers and insurers on how to manage risk and keep premiums down. We have members who find 18-year-old HGV drivers can be as good a risk as older HGV drivers.

Government funding can make a massive difference to employers’ attitudes. We are trying to get the Department for Work and Pensions to provide funding but public understanding of the industry and the career prospects within it remains low.

Transport has a story to tell of essential, fairly well-paid, long-term, sustainable employment in a large, diverse and progressive industry. Transport is increasingly an IT-led industry, too. Last month Microlise, the IT/telematics firm, held a transport conference in Coventry attended by 1,200 people. I can think of no better indicator as to how this industry has changed – but it is unknown outside the transport community.

We are going back to Osborne to get him to support our industry’s efforts. It makes sense for the economy and for growth. Government funding, linked to a quality recruitment process such as has been developed by the RHA, would: help avert a mounting crisis for the UK supply chain; upskill the UK workforce; change recruitment policies of employers; reduce our reliance on foreign drivers; greatly increase the HGV test failure rate, currently running at 47 per cent; cut the huge losses to the economy and Treasury of remittances by foreign drivers’ home – which we estimate to be well over £100 million a year.

The RHA’s analysis and funding request to government has massive support across the industry. Only last week I delivered a presentation on this subject to representatives from across many sectors at the UK Logistics Forum at General Motors in Luton. Feedback from the delegates was most interesting. For many, just finding out how reliant their own businesses are on the haulage industry helped sharpen their minds to the issue we face. We need to re-double our lobbying on funding – and to show that it would be the key catalyst for change – then the industry can provide the rest.

Martin Reid is Director for Scotland and Northern Ireland at the Road Haulage Association,