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HGV driver shortage: Haulage chief hits out at Grant Shapps’ ‘illogical’ claim Brexit not to blame for crisis

Kieran Smith, CEO interviewed for i News

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Claire Smith

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A leading road haulage boss has torn apart the Transport Secretary’s claims that Brexit is not to blame for the current HGV lorry driver crisis and has instead helped “provide a solution” to the shortage.

Rod McKenzie, policy director of the Road Haulage Association (RHA), branded the claims outright “illogical”, and said they contradict what drivers have experienced on the road.

Asked whether Brexit has eased the HGV crisis, as Grant Shapps claimed on Friday, Mr McKenzie told i: “What he’s saying is illogical – simply put, it’s illogical. It’s not our experience on the ground.

“We have a desperate shortage of lorry drivers and we need to sort it out. The idea that Brexit has helped us in some way defies logic.”

Some 14,000 EU HGV drivers left employment in the UK in the 12 months to June 2020, and only 600 have returned in the past year, according to analysis of Office for National Statistics labour force data commissioned by Logistics UK.

Kieran Smith, chief executive at specialist HGV driver recruitment firm Driver Require, also strongly disagreed that Brexit could be dismissed as a factor in the current driver shortage.

He told i: “[Brexit] is part of it by definition.”

Mr Smith said the shortage is “partially due to EU nationals leaving” the country, adding that a European exodus accounts for approximately one sixth of the lost workforce.

But thousands of EU workers have failed to return to the UK as the country eases out of lockdown, with the sector struggling to get back on its feet as a result.

Mr Smith said: “It has restricted the sector to deal with a sudden increase in requirements in haulage.”

Paul Mummery, a spokesperson for the RHA, agreed that Brexit was a large contributor to the lorry driver shortage.

“We’ve lost 20,000 drivers who have returned to the EU, so Brexit is indeed a factor in the driver shortage getting so much worse this year,” he said.

“We’re at a critical point ahead of the busiest time of the year; hauliers must be allowed to recruit overseas drivers on short term visas to plug gaps whilst we recruit and train more UK drivers in the longer term.”

Haulage bosses also questioned the Transport Secretary’s claims that ramping up driver testing will help counteract the current shortage.

Mr Shapps told Sky News: “The real problem that we face, the real bottle-neck in all of this is testing.”

The Transport Secretary claimed the changes would free up slots for more HGV tests and allow more drivers to get on the road.

However, Mr McKenzie said that in practice, tests are “getting slower and slower and slower”.

“This seems to be a kind of boosterish claim in favour of a Government decision,” he said. “On the ground, at the sharp end, things are really difficult.

“We’re struggling to get tests, we’re struggling to get drivers qualified, we’ve got more drivers leaving than joining and there is a desperate shortage anyway.”

Mr Smith also claimed increasing tests will have a “limited impact” on the industry as a whole, adding: “It isn’t going to be the panacea.”

He urged the Government to take a threefold approach to combating the driver shortage, including encouraging EU nationals to come back and work, even if just during peak seasons; improving training and testing of drivers; and attracting back lost or lapsed workers.

Read the full article by By Emily Ferguson, Poppy Wood in iNews

Download the latest driver shortage report by Driver Require Think Tank

Friday 24th September 2021

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