The government is stepping up its efforts to tackle the country’s supply chain crises, including the introduction of short-term visas for some EU workers.
Up to 5,000 drivers and 5,500 poultry workers could come to Britain from Europe ahead of Christmas.
Further announcements over the weekend included using Ministry of Defence (MOD) driving examiners to get more people through tests, encouraging the one million HGV licence holders to resume driving, and a new driver training package for 4,000 people.
Announcing the package, transport secretary Grant Shapps said the government was doing everything it could to tackle the shortage of drivers.
“We are acting now but the industries must also play their part with working conditions continuing to improve and the deserved salary increases continuing to be maintained in order for companies to retain new drivers,” he said.
The industry response to the measures has been mixed with the British Chambers of Commerce likening the new support to “throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire”.
The Road Haulage Association told the BBC that the package “barely scratches the surface” and that offering visas only until Christmas Eve would not attract drivers.
However, Logistics UK said the move was “a huge step forward in solving the disruption to supply chains”.
Marco Digioia, the head of the European Road Haulers Association which represents more than 200,000 trucking companies, told the Observer that, with drivers in demand across Europe, “much more would be needed” to attract them to Britain.
Digioia said European driver salaries were generally higher, that new EU rules had improved working conditions and billions of euros was funding new parking areas.
“The UK doesn’t have access to any of that,” he said. “Tempting European drivers back to the UK when they also have to face the reality of customs and border checks, all the uncertainties of Brexit … We have to be realistic.”
Other sectors are also worried about staff shortages ahead of Christmas demand.
Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, said that four million people who were available to food production firms at the beginning of last year were no longer in the labour force.
“I’m absolutely certain that when we get to the end of September and when we start to look at the crucial role of agency workers in the Christmas rush, there won’t be enough available,” he said.
Some of the government’s critics have claimed that the UK’s departure from the EU is to blame for the current shortages.
Grant Shapps refuted this, saying that rather than being a source of the current malaise, Brexit has helped Britain come up with solutions.
He told Sky News: “I’ve seen people point to Brexit as if it is the culprit here. In fact, they are wrong.”
Shapps said there were larger shortages in other EU countries and that “because of Brexit, I’ve been able to change the law and alter the way our driving tests operate in a way I could not have done if we were still part of the EU.”