Shortage of lorry drivers: PM dodges the question

Female lorry driver: “121206-F-PZ859-001” by Official Travis AFB, Calif. is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The shortage of lorry drivers was on the agenda of Prime Minister’s Question time this week on June 30.  The PM said he would “look into it”  thus ignoring its urgency while hastening on to deal in more detail with the Covid vaccination question. Driver shortage is an urgent question: supermarkets say that it will lead to shortages in the shops, and the Road Haulage Association (RHA) state there is shortage of 100,000 HGV drivers, caused by Brexit, Covid and changes to the IR135 tax system.

Training Young Britons as HGV Drivers

RHA are asking for HGV driving to be put on the list of shortage occupations in the UK, so that once again more experienced East European drivers can be brought over. But it is uncertain whether such drivers would be motivated to come in the unwelcoming climate of post-Brexit Britain. The increased paperwork is daunting, and problems with settled status confusing.

Getting more young Brits into this work would take time. A browse through the RHA website reveals a plethora of qualifications required for a career in  transport and logistics. Most of them take at least 6 months. Unsurprisingly there would also be a need for finance while training which is why the RHA wants the government to support apprenticeship schemes.

Why not Women?

Another possibility is recruiting more women as drivers to counter the shortage of lorry drivers…

This sounds like a great idea, as mature women might be steadier drivers than young males under 25. But then there are doubtless lots of the usual problems when formerly male occupations open to females, starting with lack of enough loos. Women can’t so easily pee in a bottle in the cab as male drivers are reported to do. 

The lack of driver facilities in Kent is notorious. In desperation some drivers park illegally in lay-bys and get fined for this.

KCC has just requested the government to extend their powers to fine for this, powers originally given in expectation of lorries deviating from the motorway routes designated by the Kent Resilience forum for expected post-Brexit traffic queues.   

It might be wondered why drivers in need of stops can’t make use of the extra space at the new Sevington stop. Are they afraid to go anywhere near a site that is designated for Customs work ? Or just not allowed to ?

Unsocial Hours and Unsafe Roads

There are a few other reasons why mature women might not want to take up HGV driving. The unsociable hours are notorious, and difficult to fit around family responsibilities. The risk of accident deters some: I know at least one man who retrained as a plumber in preference to driving after he had several accidents.  

The elimination of the hard shoulder safety lane on smart motorways is increasing the risk of accidents. There were several complaints about near-accidents with HGVs on the M20 when unfortunate drivers suffered breakdowns in live lanes on the Operation Brock lane diversions.

One solution suggested by business for the driver shortage is to lift the restriction on driver hours, originally created as an EU safety rule, which came into force on 11 April 2007. This does not sound like an acceptable solution, as it means both over-exploitation of the drivers (including those new female drivers?) and the risk of exhausted drivers on the motorways.

Will the Prime Minister Help to Find a Solution?

Like so many other post-Brexit problems, the PM obviously  is not engaging with sufficient urgency in the detail. The solution is probably a carefully calibrated plan to recruit experienced East Europeans again (if they will come) in the short-term while incentivising the training of driver apprentices in the long-term.