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HGV driver shortage made worse by lack of testing capacity

Transport - Motor vehicle

The government has published an open letter to the UK Logistics Sector and announced plans to increase lorry driving tests.

In the letter from the Departments of Works and Pensions, Transport and Environment & Rural Affairs,  the shortage of drivers is acknowledged and it outlines the measures being taken to try and raise the number of successful passes to 2000 week.  This compares with 1150 passes per week pre-COVID.

The DfT will also consult about issuing provisional licence entitlements to drive articulated lorries at the same time as issuing provisional licence entitlements to drive rigid lorries. This would allow candidates to move directly to taking articulated lorry tests, without also having to pass a rigid lorry practical test. These are practical improvements which we think could speed up recruitment and we are seeking your views on them with a view to regulatory changes as early as possible this year. They would provide a more efficient testing process longer term and are examples of changes we could make with the increased sovereignty over our decision-making that Brexit has provided. We will also consider changes related to requirements for newer car licence holders to take 2 extra tests to drive car/van and trailer combinations, with a view to consulting about removing this extra test requirement. This could also provide more testing capacity to be used for Heavy Goods Vehicle tests. We know that the costs of training can be a barrier both to new entrants and business. A number of proposals to support the training of heavy goods vehicle drivers have been put forward. We wish to support the sector in overcoming barriers to people wishing to join this sector of the economy. We are reviewing the proposals for financial support made by industry sources to boost the supply of drivers.

Read the full text of the letter here.  Meanwhile the PCS union blame decisions made by managers at the DVLA have lead to a “catastrophic” processing backlog of 1.4 millions cases.

This shortage of drivers was forecast over a decade ago with the introduction of Periodic Training better known these days as “driver cpc”.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that as many as 40,000 drivers decided to quit their HGV driving jobs to either retire or take alternative jobs as light van drivers, where a Driver Qualification Card ( better known as a CPC card) was not required.  Add to that the demographics of the baby boomers heading for retirement, and more recently the seismic shift to on line shopping generating a massive demand for van drivers,  and the industry is in the middle of a perfect storm.  Just to rub a little more salt in the wound,  Brexit appears to have led to a sizable exodus of east European drivers returning home or moving to Germany, Poland and other EEC countries for work.  The final straw has been the covid-19 “pingdemic” resulting in hundreds of drivers having to self isolate.

Aldi announced yesterday that they were joining Tesco in increasing having to increase their pay rates to prevent their own drivers moving to better paid jobs and to attract new recruits.  Tesco are also offering a £1000 bonus to lorry drivers who join the company before the end of September 2021.  Tesco’s Booker wholesale division has also reportedly provided a temporary £5-an-hour pay rise for its  Hemel Hempstead depot drivers, according to the Unite union.

And on August 2nd Marks and Spencers offered new lorry drivers a £2000 signing on bonus.  N&S are also offering up to £5000 worth of retention payments and other incentives.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) previously said it believes there is a shortfall of about 100,000 haulage drivers in the UK after around 30,000 HGV driving tests did not take place last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.