What next for the UK HGV drivers’ industry?

The madness continues. Some politicians, including my own MP, Grant Shapps, said that Brexit is not to blame for the lorry driver crisis. Moreover, Mr Shapps said that Brexit helped to “provide a solution” to the crisis. Am I crazy or is he living on a different planet?

In the last couple of days, the Road Haulage Association said that what our Transport Minister perceives as a “success” is in actual fact quite the opposite, “illogical”. I would go further that that; it is incomprehensible. Is Mr Shapps living in some sort of denial?

The Office for National Statistics claims that around 14,000(!) EU HGV drivers left employment in the UK in the last 12 months. Only 600(!) returned. In total, during the Brexit process, around 20,000 drivers left this super important profession.

Of course, there are often other contributing factors. Due to the pandemic, HGV testing capacity had significantly reduced, from 70,000 before the pandemic, to only 27,000 between March 2020 and April 2021.

Immigration might not always be the answer, however in this case, there was so much compelling evidence, which clearly demonstrates that the government has yet again failed its residents. It has not reacted on time. The lack of actions from the government was short-sighed and so irresponsible. The change to Brexit immigration rules will be introduced. However, I personally doubt that suddenly, many EU drivers will be “happily” coming back to Britain to solve our “drivers’ crisis”.

* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and former councillor

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19 Comments

  • John Marriott 27th Sep '21 - 4:00pm

    Does the government believe that the U.K. is such a workers’ paradise that the offer of a few months’ employment up to Christmas is going to attract hoards of HGV drivers from the EU?

    Mr Shapps said that Brexit was not to blame for the current crisis. However, his Tory colleague, Andrew Bridgen MP, reckoned the other night on TV that it was the fault of the EU, whose rules had made recruitment, training and retention that much harder. Well, I’ll be……..

  • Barry Lofty 27th Sep '21 - 4:19pm

    You have said it Michal! Adding to your comments Mr Shapps also states that there is not a shortage of fuel in the UK, that’s a relief now we have only got to sort out how to get it delivered to the forecourts, ” simples” just reverse some of the stupid European paranoia.

  • Jenny Barnes 27th Sep '21 - 4:34pm

    It’s all the EU’s fault.

  • Helen Dudden 27th Sep '21 - 4:49pm

    Bus Drivers only earn on average a little of £10 per hour. To me, that does not seem enough for the training and responsibility involved. The Polish bus drivers were driving our local buses.
    I think it’s time there was a system that paid fairly .

  • Some politicians, including my own MP, Grant Shapps, said that Brexit is not to blame for the lorry driver crisis.

    It isn’t. Our membership of the EU was a principal cause of the problem. The availability of cheap migrant labour suppressed wages making the job unattractive for young British recruits. Lorry drivers wages rose at half the rate of office workers. Also EU legislation such as the requirement for all HGV driver’s to have a Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (costing 500 pounds and a week’s lost wages) caused many older drivers to take early retirement or switch to driving vans. There are big shortages of drivers in the EU too. The problem has been growing for some years. Covid brought it to a head by cancelling 40,000 driving tests. Here’s an article from six years ago…

    ‘HGV Driver Shortage’ [2015]:
    https://www.returnloads.net/hgv-driver-shortage/

    The UK is currently 60,000 HGV drivers short and it is predicted that by 2020 there will be a shortfall of 150,000 drivers.

    With the average age of HGV drivers being 53, much older than the national average, and only 2% under the age of 25 many drivers are coming up to retirement while not enough young drivers are coming through to replace them. […]

    More directives from the EU
    The introduction of the controversial Drivers CPC has meant experienced drivers are required to take extra training. This was seen as too much for many drivers who chose to retire rather than complete the Drivers CPC. […]

    Wages
    The Labour government opened the floodgates to the EU workforce around 10 years ago and since then an influx of foreign HGV drivers who will work for much less has made it very difficult for a UK HGV driver to make a good wage. Haulage operators are choosing to bring in drivers from the likes of Poland and Lithuania as they can pay them less rather than opting for home grown drivers. Due to this wages within the industry seem to have stayed low even though there is high demand.

    ‘Scrap the drivers CPC’ [March 2018]:
    https://www.returnloads.net/news/scrap-the-drivers-cpc/

    The controversial drivers CPC has been seen as a main cause for the HGV driver shortage according to a survey conducted on HGV drivers across the UK. There are many qualified HGV drivers that no longer work in the industry due to the introduction of the CPC and preferred to take early retirement instead.

  • Moreover, Mr Shapps said that Brexit helped to “provide a solution” to the crisis. Am I crazy or is he living on a different planet?

    Neither I would hope. Outside the EU, we are now free to change the regulations as we see fit. The EU imposed limit on driver’s hours was relaxed for specified deliveries back in July….

    ‘Temporary relaxation of the enforcement of the retained EU drivers’ hours rules: all road haulage sectors in Great Britain’ [August 2021]:

    In response to pressures on local and national supply chains, the Department for Transport extended the temporary relaxation of the enforcement of the retained EU drivers’ hours rules in England, Scotland and Wales that was introduced on 12 July 2021.

    HGV driving tests are now being streamlined to make 50,000 more available…

    ‘Government takes further action to tackle HGV driver shortage’ [10th. September 2021]:
    https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-takes-further-action-to-tackle-hgv-driver-shortage

    HGV driving tests will be overhauled, meaning drivers will only need to take 1 test to drive both a rigid and articulated lorry, rather than having to take 2 separate tests (spaced 3 weeks apart). […]

    Car drivers will no longer need to take another test to tow a trailer or caravan, allowing roughly 30,000 more HGV driving tests to be conducted every year.

    This new legislation is changing previous EU regulations which the UK is no longer obliged to use.

  • As someone who holds both LGV and PSV licences no doubt i will be one of those receiving a letter inviting me back into the industry. No amount of money could ever tempt me back into the industry however. This is because of the way drivers have been treated for years by the industry, especially the big retailers, and the general public to whom we are a nuisance who get in the way until they cannot get what they want.
    I echo some of the comments by Jeff but don’t view the CPC as a bad thing just as per usual how it was implemented and I was lucky the one time I had to do it i had a good employer who paid. As to the driver shortage i would go back even further. I remember when I got my license back in the early 2000s and the industry was saying the same things then. Check the archives of Commercial Motors and Motor Transport magazines to see the same stories. The cost of training to get a license will set a young person back approx £5000 which is a major bar.
    I am disabled now but know of other disabled drivers doing the job but as I said you couldn’t pay me enough.

  • John Marriott 27th Sep '21 - 7:08pm

    It’s pretty clear from which side of the argument ‘Jeff’ is coming. Like Mr Shapps’ colleague, Andrew Bridgen MP, it’s all the fault of the dreaded EU. It’s great to be FREE, hey, Jeff, regardless of the facts and figures you present. As the song goes; “Freedom’s just another word of nothing left to lose”.

  • nvelope2003 27th Sep '21 - 9:21pm

    Why would an employer pay to train a driver if they can AND DO go and work for another firm immediately. Long distance drivers often have to stay away from home but many drivers can go home each night, for example those on refuse/recycling vehicles. The Government does not help by only prosecuting reputable firms for minor infractions because as the prosecutor tells them “you will turn up in court and pay the fine but the bad boys will not”. Business is being handed over to shameless crooks and good people are giving up.

  • Antony Watts 28th Sep '21 - 10:45am

    Employment conditions are just what the government allows. Somebody will always work to exploit cheaper labour.

    The only solution is tighter and more friendly employment, such as firm contracts inclding all the usual benefits, from day one.

    This is a legal issue, government need to pass laws to implement it, not think up air-brained schemes tantamount to just PR to save their faces.

  • Antony Watts: Unfortunately the Government, its MPs and its civil servants do not understand or know what would be required. Anyone who did understand would be moved to a post where they had no experience or knowledge whatsoever so that the incompetence of their colleagues would not be so obvious.

  • Nonconformistradical 28th Sep '21 - 12:35pm

    “Why would an employer pay to train a driver if they can AND DO go and work for another firm immediately.”

    Is this problem unique to HGV drivers? Not sure that it is. I recall seeing reports of similar situations in other fields where different knowledge and/or skills are required. Could it be one of the factors contributing over the years to inadquate vocational training in this country? i.e. no-one wants to pay for it as they fear they won’t benefit directly.

    Is this a case for the state actually ensuring the necessary education and training is provided while imposing a levy on employers to ensure they do actually contribute to the cost?

    At the same time people who have taken the trouble to qualify in a particular field, whatever it is, need to be paid properly.

  • John Marriott 27th Sep ’21 – 7:08pm:
    Like Mr Shapps’ colleague, Andrew Bridgen MP, it’s all the fault of the dreaded EU.

    It’s not all the fault of the EU or even of our former membership of the EU. As I mentioned Covid has caused around 40,000 HGV tests to be cancelled. There’s also the recent IR35 tax changes which have resulted in more drivers leaving the profession. It’s not an attractive job for young people with a family. ONS statistics show that average driver pay has not even kept pace with inflation since 2010.

  • Andrew Melmoth 29th Sep '21 - 12:50pm

    -Jeff
    “Our membership of the EU was a principal cause of the problem”
    So now the EU is to blame for us failing to plan for leaving the EU. ‘Take back control’ should have read ‘Take no responsibility’.

  • Andrew Melmoth 29th Sep ’21 – 12:50pm:
    So now the EU is to blame for us failing to plan for leaving the EU.
    Not what I said. My main point was that our membership of the EU (specifically the ’single market’ with its free movement of labour) had enabled employers to bring in cheap migrant labour which suppressed wages. This was a principal reason for the job becoming unattractive to new recruits. Government and parliament have been warning and cajoling the industry for some years…

    ‘Blame haulage industry not Brexit for fuel shortage, says Tory MP’ [28th. September 2016]:
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/09/28/blame-haulage-industry-not-brexit-fuel-shortage-says-tory-mp/

    [Huw Merriman] MP pointed to a 2016 parliamentary report into the looming crisis that warned of driver shortages unless wages and conditions improved.

    The problem was that hauliers that raised wages then became uncompetitive.

  • @Jeff – “Some politicians, including my own MP, Grant Shapps, said that Brexit is not to blame for the lorry driver crisis.
    It isn’t. Our membership of the EU was a principal cause of the problem.”

    You were doing so well, citing figures etc., until that last statement.

    Our membership of the EU had very little to do it. The figures you cite, clearly show the currently HGV problem has been decades in the making; just like many other areas of shortage (eg. GP’s). CoVid-19 on top of Brexit has simply exposed a fundamental flaw in the economic logic the Conservatives and their apologists have been extolling for many decades before the EU was even conceived…

    Fundamentally, the UK and much of the western world need to get away from the idea that you can continually import skilled, yet cheap migrant labour and thus trained at someone else’s expense, enabling you to avoid having to actually invest in the people who actually reside in your country.

    The numbers you cite and repeated across the media, show there is no shortage of skilled HGV drivers, there is just a shortage of people willing to work for peanuts under the terms and conditions some (Conservative party sponsors?) employers seem to think are acceptable.

    What we are seeing with the HGV driver shortage is going to be repeated across other sectors as the sheer scale of the decades long under investment by businesses and successive governments becomes clear to all, in part because Brexit has made it harder for government to talk-the-talk whilst leaving barn doors wide open and so fail to walk-the-walk; Brexit always was about Westminster taking responsibility for its actions and in-action.

  • Nonconformistradical 1st Oct '21 - 10:52pm

    Meanwhile..
    https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/oct/01/germans-living-in-uk-urged-to-drive-lorries-to-ease-our-fuel-crisis
    “Mass appeal automatically sent to holders of pre-1999 German licences, which entitle holder to drive trucks”

    “Thousands of Germans who live in the UK have been written to by the government asking them to drive lorries in an attempt to ease the UK fuel crisis, even though the majority have never been at the wheel of an HGV.”

    “The Germans were automatically included in the mailout because German driving licences issued before 1999 include an entitlement to drive small- to medium-sized trucks of up to 7.5 tonnes.

    A Department for Transport (DfT) spokesperson explained that UK residents from Germany who swapped their licence for a British one would have had that element transferred to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) database. This meant they were included in the HGV category, which also covered ambulance drivers, when the DVLA sent out the letter.”

    So much for safety on the road…..

  • Nonconformistradical 1st Oct ’21 – 10:52pm
    So much for safety on the road…..

    It’s only for 7.5 tonne trucks. If you passed a UK car driving test before 1997 you can legally drive one too, although you will need a Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) to do so professionally (requires 35 hours of largely pointless classroom ‘training’, but no test or exam). You do not need a CPC for non-commercial work or to hire one to move house, etc.

    ‘What licence do I need to drive a 7.5-tonne lorry?’:
    https://www.autotrader.co.uk/trucks/content/can-you-drive-a-7-5-tonne-truck-on-a-car-licence

    Can I Drive a 7.5-tonne lorry on a car licence?

    You can drive a 7.5-tonne lorry with a car licence if it was issued before 1 January 1997. If it was issued after 1997, you can’t legally drive a 7.5-tonne truck without applying and passing a C1 licence test.

  • Roland 29th Sep ’21 – 5:50pm:
    Our membership of the EU had very little to do it. The figures you cite, clearly show the currently HGV problem has been decades in the making;

    We can see from the graphs of ONS data that HGV driver wages started to stagnate following the arrival of east-European migrants. The EU imposed CPC also caused many HGV drivers to leave.

    ‘How the wage gap between lorry drivers and cashiers has narrowed in the UK’: [August 2021]:
    https://trans.info/en/how-the-wage-gap-between-lorry-drivers-and-cashiers-has-narrowed-in-the-uk-251881

    According to the ONS data, the median hourly wage for a lorry driver in 2010 was £9.87. Ten years later, in 2020, the median hourly wage had risen to £11.80. This represents an increase of 19.6% across the ten years.

    During the same time period, cashiers saw their pay go up from £6.51 to £9.29 – a rise of 42.7%. […]

    Moreover, the gap in pay between the profession of lorry driver, which of course is a skilled profession that involves a great deal of responsibility, was 35% more in 2010. By 2020, this difference had fallen to just 21%.

    CoVid-19 on top of Brexit has simply exposed a fundamental flaw in the economic logic the Conservatives and their apologists have been extolling for many decades…

    It’s how all markets work. Prices are set at the margin. The market for labour is no different. If there is a plentiful supply of cheap labour then wages will be suppressed. if there is a shortage of labour then wages will rise. It was Labour who opened the flood-gates to cheap labour. It’s what the Leave campaign said was happening. That was denied by remainers. Now we can see who was right.

    ‘The REAL reasons behind the petrol panic – by AN ACTUAL TRUCKER’:
    https://www.express.co.uk/comment/expresscomment/1497092/Petrol-station-forecourt-closures-HGV-driver-shortage-Brexit-latest-news

    Most, though certainly not all, HGV drivers have welcomed Brexit as the influx of cheap labour from first the near eastern bloc countries and now further afield in Russia and Philippines pushed rates and wages down. Sections of the UK haulage system, particularly our international hauliers, have been almost decimated by this.

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