Shortage of HGV drivers – a trucker’s view

According to the Road Haulage Association, there is currently a shortfall of up to 100,000 lorry drivers in the UK. Kent is particularly affected due to the historic volume of trade that passes between the EU and UK via the port of Dover. Is this good or bad for the average Kentish trucker?

I interviewed a local HGV driver with 30 years’ experience in the industry. He wishes to remain anonymous but is concerned that an impending crisis has developed over many years and has been exacerbated in the last two years due to Brexit and covid and the lack of a coordinated effort by government and the industry to mitigate the problems.

“How has your life as a trucker changed over the last two years?”

“It’s great being a lorry driver in Kent at the moment. Brexit and covid may have been bad in a lot of ways but it’s done me and a lot of people a favour. For the last ten or more years wages have been kept down by companies who preferred to bring drivers into the UK in coach loads from Romania and Poland etc, and they were happy to work for low wages. That’s why less English people wanted to work as lorry drivers and take the HGV tests. Wages haven’t gone up. Now all the EU HGV drivers are going home because of new tax laws and Brexit. So UK companies need to pay the proper wages to bring UK drivers back into haulage work.”

“Is the tide turning in your favour?”

“Yes and no. Some firms are fighting to employ drivers, offering £2,000 incentives to join a company. Wages are going up fast… at last! My wages haven’t really gone up in the last 10-15 years: just three pay rises in the last 10 years of 2% each time. Now we’re just about to get a second one this year and it’s a quite substantial £2.50 an hour extra.

“But, apart from the big supermarket chains, general haulage wages in Kent are still behind the rest of the UK. Even in cheaper areas like Liverpool and Manchester up north I’ve seen better wages.

“There are about 70,000 British people in this country that have a valid HGV truck licence but do not work in the industry because of lack of facilities, and the poor wages and workloads. Older people are leaving the industry and younger ones are not taking tests because of covid and Brexit. I work between 65 and 72 hours every week and have done so for the last 30 years. It’s about time for wages to go up and hours to come down.”

“Is Training a problem at the moment?”

“It can be a disincentive to older drivers who, otherwise, would stay on until retirement age. Six years ago they introduced the CPC refresher course requiring drivers to devote a day every year, or five days in a classroom every five years, to retain the validity of their LGV1 license.

“Big companies pay for it and allow you to do it in normal working hours. But smaller companies make you do the course at weekends in your own time and deduct the cost from your pay. It is a refresher on how to load and unload a truck, vehicle checks, health and safety etc that experienced drivers have been practising every day. It’s also harder to qualify these days as you have to pass a LGV2 test before proceeding to LGV1 and the CPC: different tests and more theory.”

“Does Kent have specific problems?”

“Don’t get me started on the Kent County Council recent practice on truck drivers getting clamped anywhere in Kent for parking overnight if they were not in a legal lorry park. That was totally out of order. Drivers running out of hours doing a delivery. Not enough time to get to a parking area. Then getting large fines. And not even allowed to park in off road lay bys.”

Until recently HGV drivers needed a Kent Access Permit (KAP) to enter Kent. Government guidance still says:

“Congestion may still occur if HGV drivers reach the Port of Dover or Eurotunnel without the correct documentation. The Kent Resilience Forum has plans in place to deal with this. Kent Police will decide when to activate parts of the plans, depending on the level of any congestion. There will be traffic management between junctions 8 and 9 of the M20. HGVs crossing the channel via Dover or Eurotunnel must use the coastbound carriageway. Depending on the level of congestion, they can hold HGVs between junctions 8 and 9 until congestion at the ports ease.”

“Other traffic will use a two-way contraflow on the opposite carriageway. HGVs that are not travelling internationally or are carrying fish/shellfish or day-old chicks and are displaying a valid prioritisation permit can use the contraflow. HGV drivers may be fined £300 if they use the contraflow when they should not.”

“When there is active traffic management, depending again on the level of congestion, HGV drivers may be asked to follow road signs to Manston Airport (if heading to Dover) or to Sevington. Prioritisation permits for fish/shellfish or day-old chicks will be issued at Ebbsfleet.”

“Is Government helping to solve the crisis?”

“What annoys me as well is the Government, instead of helping smaller haulage companies out financially, maybe with cheaper fuel taxes or an incentive to train new HGV drivers and pay better wages, all they have done is slacken or change the driving rules so existing drivers can work legally driving more hours with potential safety implications, especially during seasonal peak demands or in the event of an increase in trade.”