The Government’s faint-hearted decision to grant just 5,000 temporary UK visas to foreign lorry drivers will do more harm than good.
The decision to take the plunge and beg for EU-based drivers to return to Britain, but then cap their number at 5,000, will please absolutely no one. 5,000 drivers are less than the paltry number of poultry workers (5,500) the Government has also invited back because it couldn’t see a Christmas turkey shortage coming. Brexiteer ministers are foaming at the mouth at the news any EU drivers will be returning, while retailers and logistics bosses are howling that the move is far too little, far too late.
Other panic measures revealed over the weekend, such as using Ministry of Defence examiners to increase HGV testing capacity, will also do little to fix the immediate problem. And the plan to send a million letters to former drivers who hold an HGV licence, begging them to get back in the cab, is frankly astonishing.
The driver shortage has now led to a fuel crisis. The Government’s suspension of the competition law, to allow fuel companies to target specific petrol stations, is another sticking plaster that won’t stop the bleeding. Tanker drivers are the elite airline pilots of road haulage; these skilled drivers are trained and tested continually. You cannot let a newly qualified lorry driver take over the wheel of a petrol tanker, especially after the Government recently dumbed down the HGV driver’s test.
After most “non-skilled” EU citizens returned to their home countries in the wake of the Brexit vote, we warned the Government of a shortfall of up to 100,000 drivers. Those warnings fell on deaf ears. The UK’s entire logistics network is consequently on the verge of a major crisis. The Government may think it has stuck its finger in the dyke in the nick of time and stopped the flood of shortages. In fact, the UK’s supply-chain is now riddled with holes, and unless the Government makes the package to EU drivers vastly more attractive, Christmas shortages are now a certainty.
We agree the driver crisis is not entirely a problem created by Brexit. There is a shortage across Europe, but Brexit has doubled the impact of the problem for the UK. Furthermore, the driver shortage is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the impact of Brexit on the UK’s freight infrastructure. ParcelHero’s in-depth analysis of the ongoing UK-EU trade problems and, in particular, the powder keg Northern Ireland Protocol agreement, can be seen at: https://www.parcelhero.com/research/brexit-study