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MPs factor Brexit risks into driver shortages

29 July 2016

The House of Commons Transport Committee says if the UK becomes a less attractive place for foreign drivers it could rapidly exacerbate the driver shortage problem.

The Skills and Workforce Planning in the Road Haulage sector report suggested driver shortages could have serious repercussions long term.

"The driver shortage has resulted in a dependence on agency and particularly foreign drivers that goes beyond what is needed to cope with seasonal variations and is now necessary to sustain normal operation," it states.

"The dependence on agency staff means that operators in the sector are probably not investing enough in their staff.

"We think this creates two risks that need to be managed. First, if the UK becomes relatively less attractive as a place for foreign drivers to work [a risk post-Brexit], the shortage could become much more acute, possibly quite rapidly.

"Secondly, the longer-term sustainability of the UK’s road haulage sector could be undermined if there is not a steady stream of people through the sector gaining the skills and experience that they need to become transport managers and operators."

Not a skills issue

The report also says the driver shortage is not down to a lack of skills but due to a scarcity of people willing to work in the sector.

The Committee's report says: "A number of factors make the job less attractive than it was. It is imperative the industry takes steps to improve the terms and conditions so it can recruit and retain the drivers it needs.

"The industry will need to invest more in recruitment, training and driver welfare following years of under-investment. We acknowledge that this is challenging for many of the smaller operators, especially given the very tight margins operators face."

The report also called on industry to address the inadequate facilities provided currently for drivers and promote the sector better in schools and colleges.

"We are also concerned about the terms and conditions under which some agency drivers are required to work," says the Report.

The Report added it is important that the sector broadens the pool of people from which it recruits to ensure BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) groups and women are better represented in its workforce of drivers. 

MPs added that it is up to industry to address the funding issue but added that Government also has a role to pay.

"It is up to the industry to find ways of funding licence acquisition. We do not think the sector will be able to broaden its appeal beyond its core demographic unless it changes its approach. It is not uncommon for bus and coach companies to fund acquisition of a PSV licence. We accept that bus and coach companies tend run on much better margins and can receive public subsidy for non-profitable work so this kind of investment may be more affordable for them. The Government’s support, in the form of apprenticeships and loans, is welcome and we expect to see it being more active in providing this kind of support.

"It is important that the industry gets beyond the point where it appeals mainly to those with a passion for driving. We believe that there are steps the industry can take to encourage young people, regardless of their background and gender, to work as drivers.

"The industry needs to work with insurers to find ways of reducing the cost of insuring young drivers. Drivers go through extensive training, their work driving is closely regulated and in many cases their driving is monitored using telematics. We believe that it should not be impossible to find a way to reduce the cost of insurance to encourage more operators to consider employing younger drivers. It is primarily the responsibility of the industry to find ways of addressing the cost of insurance but the Government has a role to play in facilitating this work."

CILT reaction

The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) welcomed the call for industry to do more.

Jolyon Drury, Chair, Public Policies Committee, CILT appearing before the Transport Select Committee and discussed the ‘enormous pressure’ on road haulage operators not to put up their prices.

Jolyon Drury also highlighted, the reluctance to join the industry can be put down to squalid driver rest conditions, due to the lack of properly equipped and secure truck parking. He emphasised the need for a necklace of truck parks located close to logistics hubs, and states that changes in planning legislation are required to make this happen both inside, and close to, distribution parks.

CILT’s written evidence also reveals how many of its members have lost business as a result of the driver shortage.

FTA reaction

Sally Gilson, FTA Skills Policy Development Manager says: “We are pleased to see that the Transport Committee has listened to FTA’s concerns – as this is a problem that isn’t going to solve itself.

“We strongly agree with the Committee and its calls for Government to provide more support, and with the need for better roadside facilities for drivers. This is especially important if more women are to be recruited – currently only one per cent of HGV drivers in the UK are female.

“FTA has held driver and skills shortage summits to explore solutions and is working with various groups including students and service leavers to raise the profile of the industry and make a career in logistics more aspirational.”

One of the biggest barriers to licence acquisition if the cost of training, FTA has been calling on Government to provide a suitable loan system.  The current Personal Career Development Loan option is not appropriate and a simple change to allow Level 2 qualifications to be included within the 19+ loan would provide the quickest and best solution.

RHA reaction

Road Haulage Association chief executive Richard Burnett added: “Today’s report represents a fair reflection of the issues facing the industry. But let’s not lose sight of the positives. This is a diverse and vital industry with a wealth of opportunities - and we need to get that message across.” 

The committee report highlights the essential contribution that road haulage makes to the UK economy and well-being of its citizens – a fact that is too often overlooked by politicians.

“The very real challenges facing the industry must be balanced with the range of career opportunities within this very large and progressive sector,” continued Richard Burnett. “The road haulage and logistics sector has something from everyone, whether in warehousing, driving, management, IT, finance and business development.”