It’s a wonder it took this long for us to really feel the lorry driver shortage.
The UK's recent fuel supply crisis came from a perfect storm of contributing factors, some easier and cheaper to take a pop at than others. Take away any single reason and the outage probably would’ve been averted. You would’ve found the odd pump dry, shrugged and moved to another one or a different forecourt. But, ultimately, the crisis exposes the truth that we’ve taken the mickey out of lorry drivers for too long.
The immediate problem was sparked by BP when it complained to a Cabinet Office meeting in mid-September about its driver shortage. When ITV News headlined those comments “BP prepares to ration fuel deliveries”, the resulting panic buying was probably inevitable.
It’s ironic that this time last year, BP’s contracted tanker firm, Hoyer Petrolog, was facing the prospect of Industrial action because it wanted to lay off more than 20% of its drivers at its Cheshire refinery and depots.
“It’s clear that we will not return to ‘normal’ [levels of fuel demand] for at least the next 12 months, if at all,” Hoyer predicted, while trying to lay off drivers that the industry now thinks rather more valuable.
If it miscalled things then, others had an even worse pandemic. Lorry drivers are key workers, so surely the body that supports them is too? You wouldn’t know it: the DVLA reportedly has a backlog of 54,000 HGV licences to process (although it had strike action through August).
Meanwhile, the Road Haulage Association says that at least 30,000 HGV driver training tests were cancelled last year. The company Driver Hire Training last week found that more than 60% of HGV test centres still have waiting lists of at least 11 weeks for tests.
Small wonder the government is now writing to all of the UK’s HGV licence holders to ask them, if they’ve left the industry, whether they would pretty please consider coming back. To what? To long hours where the pay and conditions are poor for what is a skilled, difficult and tiring job? To where distributors have outsourced driver employment to agencies that win those contracts on cost?