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HGV driver crisis – why supermarket shelves could be empty this summer

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An acute shortage of lorry drivers in the UK is having a significant impact on the nation’s food supply chain. Business leaders from across these sectors are warning this could lead to sparse, bare shelves this summer, just as restrictions are lifted and the country tries to move on from the pandemic.   

The Government has this week been holding emergency talks to address the acute HGV driver shortage the country is facing. Officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) are understood to have been meeting with retailers, logistics groups and wholesalers. Several solutions are being proposed, including relaxing rules on drivers’ working hours, increasing access to HGV driver training and driving tests, and attracting overseas drivers by addressing immigration issues.


What led to the talks?

The talks are taking place following a warning issued to Boris Johnson by leaders from the food and logistics industries. In the letter sent to the Prime Minister on 23 June 2021, the industry leaders cautioned that unless something is done to address the shortfall in HGV drivers, supply chains could collapse. This would send the country into a scenario similar to the spring of 2020, when warnings of low supply led to panic buying and stockpiling, resulting in empty shelves that supermarkets struggled to restock. This time, however, the bare shelves would be caused by one thing only a shortage of HGV drivers. Food production and processing  would be in place, there would be enough supermarket staff to sell and restock shelves. Just nobody to deliver the goods, and without the crucial distribution step, these critical supply chains would be at risk of failure. 

The threat is even more real going into the summer months, with loosening restrictions increasing the demand for food and beverages, exacerbating an already critical problem. You may already have noticed gaps appearing on shelves, and with limited supply, the prices for products could also go up.


Why is the logistics industry struggling?

So what’s gone wrong? Well, even prior to the pandemic, the logistics industry was struggling to attract a decent sized workforce. This was down to a number of factors, including an ageing workforce and a failure to attract a diverse workforce (incredibly, just 1% of European truckers are female). However, as a result of Brexit and the pandemic, that shortfall has now reached a staggering 100,000 drivers. According to Richard Burnett, Chief Executive at the RHA, and the co-signatories of the communication, this is due to several factors, including:

  • A fall in the number of newly qualified drivers during the pandemic, from a typical average of 40,000 per year to just 15,000 in 2020 
  • Covid lockdown forcing drivers to return to their home countries
  • Depletion of numbers due to drivers taking early retirement or moving to less demanding jobs during lockdown inactivity
  • Less European drivers able to work in the UK, as a result of Brexit

The letter, co-ordinated by Richard Burnett, included co-signatories from industry leaders at logistics companies including KUEHNE + NAGEL, Eddie Stobart, Wincanton, XPO Logistics and Diamond Logistics Group, as well as representatives from food industry goliaths including the Food and Drink Federation, the British Frozen Food Federation, the British Beer and Pub Association and the Cold Chain Federation.

Although no supermarkets were included as signatories, the impact on them has recently been highlighted by supermarket giant Tesco. On a Teams meeting hosted by the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Employment, the company issued an urgent call for action, stating that the severe driver shortage has led to delayed deliveries and created 48 additional tonnes of food waste every week, as food cannot be delivered to stores. 


Potential changes to legislation and a boost to training 

This industry pressure has definitely had an impact, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on the results of the emergency talks and any changes to legislation. However, one thing’s for certain, increased driver numbers will have to be driven at a local level. This means increased access to driver training, as well as possible incentives to join the profession. 


So what does this mean for the world of HGV drivers and, more specifically, driver training? Well, if you’re interested in becoming an HGV driver, then now is the time to embark on your new career. Whether you’re fresh out of College, or looking for a career change, becoming an HGV driver is an excellent and fulfilling career choice. What’s more, you won’t need to take out a hefty student loan to qualify. The driver shortage means that you’ll have excellent prospects, with fantastic job security. Contact us today to learn more about driver training programmes, and the best route for you to realise your ambition to become an HGV driver. We look forward to hearing from you, and remember, the nation needs you!


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