Hauliers boss denies UK Government claim that lorry driver shortage is improving

A claim the UK's shortage of lorry drivers is improving by the week has been shot down by the Road Haulage Association, which has declared it was unlikely the situation would get better any time soon.

UK transport secretary Grant Shapps told MPs his department had doubled the number of testing slots to allow drivers to become qualified, while better pay conditions and facilities have incentivised people to join the sector.

However, Martin Reid, director for Scotland and Northern Ireland of the Road Haulage Association, gave evidence to Holyrood’s economy committee on Wednesday, telling MSPs the shortage of drivers was “acute” in the UK compared to elsewhere in Europe.

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He said: "I don't see things improving any, certainly for the short term.”

A shortage of lorry drivers is impacting retailers' supplies.

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A reduction in the number of lorry drivers after Brexit has already seen many supermarkets struggling to fill their shelves, with retailers warning Christmas supplies could be disrupted.

Yet Mr Shapps said the problem was “absolutely global”, although he admitted there had been a “systematic issue in this country for a very long time”.

He told MPs: "We've continually allowed our domestic market to underperform by simply having wages undercut by people coming in prepared to do the job for less and in pretty bad conditions sometimes. That's the wider picture we're determined to resolve.

"We've seen a very welcome rise in salaries. I think this will provide incentive for people to come into this market.”

However, during a Holyrood evidence session, Mr Reid told how the industry had been dealing with a major shortage of drivers before Brexit and Covid.

He said prior to January 1, when the full impact of Britain's departure from the European Union was felt, the industry had a shortage of between 50,000 and 60,000 drivers.

Mr Reid said while "about 15,000 EU nationals were working in and out of the UK" at that time, “some of them went home with no intention of coming back, others it was difficult for them to come back”.

He said Covid had also impacted the situation, with the number of HGV tests able to be carried out falling from about 75,000 a year to 35,000. With a pass rate of just over 50 per cent, Mr Reid said this too had added to the shortfall of drivers, along with the ageing workforce.

"The average age of an HGV driver is about 55 years old," he said.

"So we have a lot of leavers, whether that be through finding another career, whether it be retirement or through ill health. And it has traditionally been difficult to attract new blood into the industry – only 2 per cent of HGV drivers are under 25 years old.

“These are all factors that have come to a head.”

Meanwhile, Ewan MacDonald-Russell of the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) told MSPs that industry prices for for items such as toys and electrical goods were rising as a result of supply chain issues, and they would be “passed along" to shoppers.

Asked how the problems retailers are experiencing could impact on families' festive celebrations, he said: "I think we have been quite candid, if people are preparing for Christmas, this is a pretty good year to be organised on your Christmas shopping."

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