How UK petrol shortages could force government concession on visas required by EU lorry drivers

Fri 24 Sept 2021
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

petrol pumpThe government has urged people not to panic buy food or petrol as HGV shortages led to the closure of some petrol stations.

BP and Esso had a “handful” of forecourts closed due to a lack of fuel yesterday, which was caused by a shortage of delivery drivers.

The petrol supply issue comes on top of distribution problems in the food industry and rising gas prices, leading to warnings the government faces a “winter of discontent”.

Don’t panic… yet

With a reported shortage of anything up to 100,000 drivers in the UK, Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association (RHA) said that while there was no need to panic-buy, consumers could face stock outs and shortages due to supply chain disruption.

His call for seasonal visas for foreign drivers was echoed by Iceland managing director, Richard Walker, who said: “I think the solution – even if it’s temporary – is very, very simple. Let’s get HGV drivers onto the skilled worker list.”

Transport minister Grant Shapps has said he “will move heaven and earth to do whatever we can to make sure that shortages are alleviated with HGV drivers,” the Guardian reports.

Rule nothing out

Touring media studios this morning (Friday 24 September), Shapps said he would not rule out the visas option or bringing in army drivers. He told BBC Breakfast that “he would rule nothing out”, but that there were already six million Europeans with settled or pre-settled status, which meant that those with HGV licences were free to work here.

As the shortage of drivers continues, the BBC has a RHA survey on the reasons European HGV drivers left the UK. Retirement and Brexit are the top two, but changes to IR35 tax is a surprise third, well above Covid.

With the average age of an HGV driver at 55, and only 1% under 25, according to the RHA, the industry needs to modernise and improve working conditions to retain young drivers, said Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen.

Pay and conditions

“We’re actually not short of HGV drivers per se – we’ve got 600,000 people who are qualified to drive those big trucks, but only 300,000 people chose to work in the industry,” he told BBC Newsnight.

“Pay and conditions have been suppressed for a very long term by bringing in EU migrants who are willing to work for those wages and conditions,” he added.

Although the RHA continues to call for short term visas for drivers, a story in the Irish Times says some will never come back, citing poor working conditions, tax changes, and new customs procedures among their reasons.