Driver shortages are pushing logistics businesses towards unprecedented crisis, says Pall-Ex

Driver shortages are pushing Britain’s logistics businesses towards an unprecedented crisis, according to Pall-Ex, a pallet network of independent haulage firms.

Pall-Ex Group operates two pallet networks in the UK, Pall-Ex and Fortec, and independent haulage businesses are shareholder members of each network.

The Pall-Ex Group’s shareholder member businesses have said they are struggling to find drivers to carry out collections and deliveries.

The group is concerned about “crippling driver shortages” at a time when the average age of HGV drivers in the UK stands at 56, and fewer young people are entering the industry.

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The skills gap has been described as contributing to a “perfect storm”, by Paul Sanders, the Chairman of the Association of Pallet Networks in an open letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps

When surveyed, 74% of Pall-Ex Group members said that they were affected by driver shortages every day.

Dave Webster, Managing Director of Dewsbury-based haulage firm Brocklehurst Transport, said: “If nothing changes, we will have to park our trucks up. We will not be able to operate as a business.”

He added: “The Government needs to encourage insurance companies to lower the minimum age from 25 to 21, as this means so many more talented young drivers can enter the industry. This would be a massive help.”

Kevin Buchanan, chief executive of Pall-Ex Group, said: “As an industry, we are facing one of the greatest challenges of a generation.

"The combination of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic has compounded the driver shortage that has been an ever-increasing threat for several years.

“Drivers having to isolate, and those who have chosen to leave the industry because of covid, as well as a vastly reduced talent pool thanks to most European drivers no longer having freedom of movement into the UK has seen the number of skilled drivers fall off a cliff in the last 18 months.”

In an open letter to the road haulage sector, ministers, including Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, have pledged to work with industry leaders to attract new drivers, simplify training and encourage people to stay in the industry.

The Government statement said: “The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has already worked to ensure almost 1,500 HGV drivers pass their driving test every week but the government is going further still to make sure new drivers get up and running in the industry as quickly as possible.

“A new consultation will be launched on allowing drivers to take one test to drive both an articulated and rigid lorry. This would streamline the process for new drivers to gain their HGV licence and would increase lorry test appointment availability. The consultation will ensure road safety is paramount and set out that drivers will still be supervised until fully qualified.”

"The consultation will also look at allowing trainers to actually examine drivers in the off-road manoeuvres part of the HGV driving test, and look at whether specific car and trailer tests should be required. This will allow a significant increase in the number of HGV driving tests to be conducted whilst maintaining road safety standards."

Mr Shapps said: “I want to thank all those in the road haulage industry who have worked so hard throughout the pandemic to provide such a vital service.”

"I understand the challenges faced by drivers and operators right now and while longer-term solutions must be led first and foremost by industry leaders, today we are saying this government is here to help.

"This set of measures will kickstart that help, easing pressure on the sector as we work together to attract new drivers, improve conditions and ensure the industry’s future is a prosperous one.

"The government is also looking to help the road haulage sector improve the working conditions of drivers – something which is key to addressing the shortage and encouraging British workers to forge long, successful careers in the sector. It will support this, initially, by working alongside the industry to support more official parking spaces for lorry drivers and look at ways to improve the standard of lorry parks."