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Freight sector told to fix driver issues or face larger taxes

Lorry driver in cab

A Transport Select Committee report has concluded that the freight sector must take responsibility for fixing issues with driver retention, recruitment and welfare.

The Committee urges Ministers to give the logistics sector two years to deliver sufficient drivers, workers and facilities, including high-quality services and welfare.

Failure to do so should see the Government implement a Supply Chain Levy to assist in building facilities and training new drivers, conclude MPs. The Levy would require the parts of the supply chain where margins are greatest - such as large retailers, oil companies and online service giants - to deliver improved standards and resilience to the supply chain which they themselves require.

The Chair of the Transport Committee, Huw Merriman MP said: “We urge Government to be brave and force the sector to get its house in order. A Supply Chain Levy has worked previously to incentivise reform. If the industry won’t deliver change, Government should do so and send them the bill via increased taxes to those who produce and sell and make the most profits. This must be accompanied by minimum standards for planning, facilities and employers’ treatment of HGV drivers and seafarers. It’s the least we can ask for those who work so hard to deliver our goods to us.

“The long-term solution lies in moving more freight to rail and water. This will help decarbonise the sector and make it more attractive to drivers who want to operate over shorter distances; drivers who want to see their families at the end of a hard day rather than facing anti-social and dangerous nights sleeping in their cabs. In the near-term, we need better conditions to make moving essential goods a sound career choice.

“We’ve been here before. In 2016, the Transport Committee called for action in the haulage sector but little changed. Lack of diversity is holding expansion in the workforce back. Women make up as little as one per cent of the workforce. The proportion of under-25s is under three per cent. For too long, this lack of diversity has seen more drivers retiring than being recruited.

“The pandemic turned a chronic problem of a lack of HGV drivers into an acute one. Yet again, the Government had to step in to shore up a private sector which failed to mend its fragile roof in sunnier times. The industry needs an expensive incentive to fix its problems rather than expect the Government, and taxpayer, to step in when we inevitably encounter the next crisis. The dire alternative is that drivers will go elsewhere and the essential goods we take for granted will be in short supply.”

Within the report, which can be viewed here, the Transport Select Committee recognises the issues faced by HGV operators, including driver recruitment and retention, poor quality facilities at rest stops and infrastructure.

It recommends that the Government should recognise driver facilities as key national infrastructure assets, to be delivered through a planning framework at a central level as planning authorities at local government cannot be expected to deliver a national infrastructure solution. The report also sugests that findings of a current lorry parking survey should be used to set regional targets for building additional parking capacity for drivers, with a joint Government-industry taskforce to keep it on track. 

To retain and value drivers in their daily work, the Transport Select Committee recommends that Government should set a minimum standard for driver facilities that ensures they have safe and secure places to stop, rest and recuperate. The report also recommends that Government should lead the way by prioritising new leases with motorway service operators operating on Government-owned land. Just as recruits to the bus and coach sectors are funded by their sectors, it makes no sense that haulage drivers must pay for their own training.

David Wells OBE, chief executive at Logistics UK, said blame for the issues faced by the sector has been unfairly placed at the industry’s door. 

He explained: “Logistics workers are the unsung heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping shops, schools, hospitals and locked-down families supplied with all the goods and medicines the country needed.  To place all the blame for the supply chain issues facing our industry at our door does our workers a great disservice, and totally ignores the role which the government and other agencies have played in creating staff recruitment and retention problems across the sector. 

“Despite operating on incredibly narrow margins - often of less than 1% - our sector has already made significant investment in the next generation of workers through the Apprenticeship Levy with £700m paid in by our industry to date. However, due to a lack of appropriate qualifications for the sector, which did not even exist until 2021, only £150 million has been able to be drawn down thus far, representing a tax on our sector and a huge, missed opportunity for recruitment.  

“It is also a national disgrace that thousands of HGV drivers, which have worked so tirelessly to protect the supply chain during the pandemic, are still unable to access suitable safe and secure truck stops across the country, with many forced to take their legally mandated rest breaks on the side of roads, something which Logistics UK has campaigned on for many years. 

“It is not the industry’s responsibility to build and run these facilities, not least because they are commercial enterprises, many of which cater for all road users and not just the haulage sector. The real problem that has not been resolved is local authority planning rules and red tape that prevent these facilities being built in the first place. To suggest that these new builds, which are used by all road users, could be constructed as a result of a levy on hauliers would place an unfair, disproportionate burden on the industry. 

"The report’s overview of the sector’s recruitment issues is confused and misleading. Like nearly every other industry in the UK, logistics is facing issues caused by a combination of factors, none of which are within its control. These include an ageing workforce, the loss of European workers after Brexit and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on testing of new HGV drivers.   The industry has already come together to create and fund a massive skills and recruitment campaign, aimed at young people, women and other under-represented groups, to attract new talent into the sector. The government is aware of this and has committed to supporting the industry’s efforts.” 

Wells concluded: “It’s disappointing that the Committee has taken so long to reach the wrong conclusions and not address the real public policy issues needing urgent attention.”

many of the challenges discussed in the report are beyond the direct control of the sector and the organisations operating within it. As a result, we urge the Government to collaborate with the sector in helping to raise the profile of the profession, recruit a more diverse workforce and improve facilities nationwide.

Kevin Richardson, chief executive at CILT(UK), added: "CILT is calling on the government to work collaboratively with business to tackle these important challenges and transform the sector, rather than placing the emphasis on the organisations which operate within it.

"We would therefore like to see more support, assistance and initiatives from Government than those suggested within the report to ensure that supply chains are recognised as critical infrastructure for the economy and those working within it are recognised and treated on the basis of the enormous value that they deliver.”

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