The government says that hauliers should focus on hiring UK-based drivers rather than relying on labour from overseas in a bid to resolve the current lorry driver recruitment crisis.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, has rejected calls from employers for immigration visa rules to be relaxed for a short-term temporary solution.
His comments come after growing numbers of hauliers and employers in the food manufacturing and distribution industries say that a lack of drivers is causing them production issues.
‘Desperate need to recruit overseas drivers’
And Logistics UK says that with a backlog of driving tests, and the fact it can take up to nine months for a new driver to qualify, means there is a ‘desperate need to recruit overseas drivers’.
Just last week, Logistics UK joined with the British Retail Consortium to write to the government making clear that ‘unsustainable pressure’ is being placed on supply chains and retailers.
The lorry driver shortage is down to tax changes that saw self-employed drivers leave the industry, post-Brexit immigration rules which prevent overseas drivers from taking up jobs and the Covid pandemic which saw lots of HGV drivers being told to stay at home under the ‘Pingdemic’ rules.
Now Mr Kwarteng has responded to those groups saying that lorry drivers will not be eligible under government rules for a skilled worker visa, and they will not be added to a shortage occupation list which would enable employers to recruit from overseas.
Recruiting foreign HGV drivers
He says that recruiting foreign HGV drivers would only help in the short term and businesses should now be looking to utilise the ‘strength of the domestic workforce’.
He also added that employers should look to employ those who may be facing an ‘uncertain future’ with the ending of the furlough scheme next month.
The business secretary has also highlighted that the government is offering £7,000 per apprenticeship for anyone wanting to train as a lorry driver and offering more money to train ex-offenders, those leaving military service and the long-term unemployed.
The response from Mr Kwarteng has left Logistics UK saying it feels ‘frustrated’ and they say it will take until early next year to clear the backlog of HGV driving tests.
‘Industry needs drivers now’
In a statement, the business group says: “The industry needs drivers now, and we have been urging the government to replicate its temporary visa scheme, introduced for agricultural workers, for logistics to keep trucks and vans moving in the short term.”
The government has also underlined that the UK has a resilient food supply chain and there are established ways of working within the food sector to address their supply chain disruptions.
A government spokesman says that measures to tackle the HGV driver shortage have been revealed including plans for streamlining the process for new drivers to gain their licence and boosting the number of driving tests that can be carried out.