The shortage of HGV drivers has grown excessively; with reports detailing there have been shortages of over 100,000 lorry drivers in the UK. This comes as no surprise, as this has been a prevailing, long-standing problem within the industry for the past decade.
As a result of the pandemic, e-commerce boomed. Consumers turned to online retail outlets, which saw an accelerated demand for the delivery of goods. High demands for deliveries versus delays brought the shortage to the fore, with reports of a backlog of HGV driving tests and travel restrictions.
Brexit played its own part, amplifying the HGV driver shortages in the UK particularly, as once the UK entered the single market, European drivers could no longer pass through easily. There has since been the introduction of temporary visas, however less than 200 names have been put forward.
This has been a real pain point for businesses, especially SMEs, who need to focus on pandemic recovery. Ongoing disruptions to supply chains and the knock-on effect of being unable to provide goods, or having to compensate for delays in the lead up to Christmas, will inhibit SME growth and recovery further.
However, to enable businesses more time to adjust to new import regulations, under current Government guidelines customs requirements have been simplified, as traders are allowed to make a delayed supplementary import declaration. From the 1st January 2022, it will be mandatory for SMEs to submit full EU import declarations. There have also been further delays surrounding the legislative changes scheduled for the 1st of October amid reports of food shortages.
Though import sanctions and red tape has been testing, delayed-onset of changes are timely amid the supply chain crisis, allowing SMEs to focus entirely on their supply chain management in the lead up to Christmas. This will also leave room for businesses to keep on top of admin and avoid detrimental backlogs by the time regulations are in place come the new year, or else increase risks of accidental non-compliance. To assist with this, customs agents are on hand to provide guidance and support.
Looking to the future
Evidently, Covid-19 and Brexit merely escalated an already pressing problem with regards to a shortage of HGV drivers in the UK. With a smaller pool of UK drivers and a backlog of HGV driving tests following the pandemic, it doesn’t put industry recovery in good stead. Once more, the demographic is made up of older, typically male workers, with few young people interested in the solitary, low-paid role. Given this, it’s unsurprising larger corporations with shiny offerings of higher bonuses are easily poaching drivers from smaller companies.
Though regulatory measures are being temporarily relaxed for the number of deliveries overseas lorry drivers can make in the UK, it brings only a short-term solution. This measure may also come as a blow for British operators and drivers; allowing overseas drivers to come for up to six months and do unlimited work on low rates will undercut UK hauliers, extenuating issues further.
That said, the real question is whether the government or industry have the appetite to fix issues in the long term. Reportedly, these changes are only set to be in place towards the end of this year for up to six months. What ought to really be done is pay UK drivers the higher rates they deserve. But with the development of automated driverless vehicles coming into play over the next few decades, perhaps there is little urgency to seek an effective solution.