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HGV driver crisis hidden for years

The shortage of truck drivers in the UK, which is now impacting the public directly, has been growing for the best parts of two decades, but has been largely hidden by the careful management of freight forwarders and the supply chain sector in general.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) estimate that there is a shortage of 100,000 drivers in the UK, out of a pre-pandemic total of about 600,000, which has been exacerbated by changes to rules following Brexit and 30,000 HGV driving tests being missed because of COVID lockdowns.

The transport sector’s labour issues have developed over time as multinationals have driven down supply chain costs, and the global driving workforce has aged. The average truck driver in the UK is 55 years of age, because t has not been a popular career path to follow for young people.

The government has announced a new HGV testing regime which will mean up to 3,000 new drivers can be tested per week. Currently the pass rate is 56% so that would mean an extra 1,600 drivers per week, but the RHA said the industry was losing 600 drivers a week and with the net shortfall it would take nearly two years to fill the gap.

The effect of this shortage is being felt in every business vertical, impacting domestic delivery and collections, as well as international transport, and particularly the merchant haulage of empty and laden sea containers, as drivers are tempted to move to less demanding roles within the domestic sector.

The direct impact of this driver loss is an increasing challenge and is particularly felt when trying to locate additional haulage resource, particularly for movements within a 72-hour window. 

Many hauliers, given the current market conditions, are operating what is often a ‘pay to play’ scenario, where the highest bidder wins. And this scenario is being repeated across all modes and sectors of the industry.

Even the payment of a booking premium is no guarantee that the contractor will not cancel the booking without notice. This can mean the container will exceed its free period of rent and detention on imports or fail to materialise on export collections.

Hauliers have been increasing driver pay rates, adding retention and loyalty bonuses and improving working conditions in a bid to stem the outflow, which is being reflected in their rates and may be indicative of a longer term trend to make the industry more attractive to new generation of drivers.

We work tirelessly with our transport partners to ensure that sufficient haulage resource is available as required, but even booking three or four weeks in advance, cannot guarantee that a booking will be cancelled without notice.

We manage these difficult situations every day, finding alternative solutions to support our customers. Using imagination, experience, creativity and an unwavering commitment to do everything we can to meet their deadlines.