Further to our recent rebuttal piece which debunked misconceptions about shortages of long-haul drivers in the UK, and in connection with claims about Brexit-related labour-cost inflation, it’s worth noting that the industry’s problems stem from the way it treats its drivers, rather than a shortage of qualified people as is sometimes made out.
An October/November 2020 report bears this out. To drive a large goods vehicle commercially you need both to pass a number of initial tests and then to maintain your certificate of professional competence/driver qualification card, which is granted on the basis of recent LGV driving experience.
In 2020 there were 287,000 people working as large goods vehicle drivers in the UK, a further 330,000 who held driver qualification cards but didn’t describe themselves as LGV drivers, and 327,000 who had passed the tests but had no card (ie. no recent experience).
Even allowing that many of these people may be in the military, retired or otherwise using their licenses to drive large vehicles without considering themselves to be LGV drivers for survey purposes, the point remains that there is a substantial pool of potential drivers. From this reservoir of potential drivers it should be possible to fill the shortage of 100,000 drivers which is claimed.*
The key barrier, however, is the poor way that many logistics companies treat their hauliers – a problem which, as we explored, has been intensified by EU integration levelling the labour market, which has affected road haulage along with many other sectors. For many haulage companies, there are advantages to being domiciled in Eastern Europe to further take advantage of these benefits.
To add insult to injury, the same companies now complain via the Road Hauliers’ Association that the logistics system is close to breaking point, when they have had five years since the Brexit vote to plan and reassess their recruitment and retention policies.
There signs, however, that companies are beginning to change their policies. John Lewis and other supermarkets are now offering drivers more competitive salaries – a natural consequence of the restriction of supply. In turn, this should encourage a measure of innovation on the supply side, whether in the flashier form of self-driving vehicles or more mundane improvements to the efficiency of routes and vehicle fuel consumption.
* A word on the statistics – the 2020 numbers may have fluctuated if European drivers have returned to the EU. It’s also worth noting that UK migration statistics rely on the government’s Labour Force Survey, which is itself flawed.