THE GOVERNMENT has pledged to improve working conditions for lorry drivers, simplify licence tests and encouraging existing licence holders back into the road haulage industry to combat a severe shortage of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers.
An open letter to the UK logistics sector letter signed by Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, Therese Coffey, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, sets out a package of measures that are designed to tackle the driver shortage.
The shortage of drivers is the result of a combination of factors. The Covid-19 pandemic saw many foreign lorry drivers travel home and not return, while new post-Brexit immigration controls and added bureaucracy related to the importing and exporting of goods are discouraging truckers from mainland Europe. Disruption has also been caused by the recent NHS Covid app ‘pingdemic’ — official advice is to self-isolate if notified that you may have been in contact with some who has tested positive.
Lorry tests changes considered
Increasing the number of HGV licence tests has been marked out as a key way to increase driver numbers. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has ramped up testing, from a pre-Covid rate of 1,150 passes a week to 1,500 a week currently, thanks to overtime working and moving additional staff into test roles.
In addition, the Department for Transport (DfT) will consult on simplifying the HGV driving test so that provisional HGV licence holders can move directly to an articulated lorry test without the need to pass a rigid lorry test first. This change has the potential to increase pass rates to 2,000 a week, it is claimed.
The DfT will also consider changes to the car driving test. Currently, new licence holders have to take an additional test to be able to tow. If this requirement is dropped, it provides additional capacity for moving to HGV tests.
Funding is also being steered towards driver training. The Large Goods Vehicle Driver apprenticeship will be offered from August 2, which provides funding of £7,000, while a £3,000 incentive payment is available to firms hiring apprentices between April 1 and September 30, 2021. A second Urban Driver apprenticeship is also being considered.
In addition, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will encourage jobseekers to find employment in the UK logistics industry with advice and guidance, while also encouraging road haulage firms to approach their local job centre to find appropriate staff.
Better working conditions to lure back former lorry drivers
To help encourage former lorry drivers back behind the wheel, the government is seeking to improve working conditions by overhauling lorry parking, in conjunction with trade and driver representatives and Highways England. Plans include improving the quantity and quality of parking facilities, both for daytime breaks and overnight stops.
These new measures follow a recent relaxation of drivers’ hours, as well as a relaxation of supermarket delivery times, to help improve logistics. However, this proposal was met with widespread criticism from across the industry and road safety bodies, citing that longer hours would result in tired drivers, increasing the risk of accidents.
However, Road Haulage Association chief executive Richard Burnett said that while the new proposals were welcome, they didn’t offer a short-term solution.
“This is a step in the right direction long-term, but it doesn’t address the critical short-term issues we’re facing,” he said. “The problem is immediate, and we need to have access to drivers from overseas on short-term visas. The idea to simplify training and speed up testing is welcome; along with encouraging recruitment it will only improve things in a year or two’s time.”
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