Brexit to blame as lorry driver shortages hit 100,000, says Yorkshire logistics boss

Brexit has exacerbated problems with a shortfall in lorry drivers - contributing to the supply chain problems being experienced in the shops, the head of a Yorkshire haulage company has said.

Peter Brown, CEO of Neill & Brown Global Logistics. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Road haulage bosses have said there is a shortfall of around 100,000 drivers, partly caused by the exit from the UK during the pandemic of thousands of EU drivers who have not yet returned.

Peter Brown, chief executive of Hull firm Neill & Brown Global Logistics, said this was up on a shortfall of 40,000 drivers that existed before Brexit.

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He said other industries were experiencing similar problems as EU workers leave the UK.

Fast food giant McDonald's has run out of milkshakes in all of its UK restaurants due to supply chain problems. The burger chain has also been left without bottled drinks across its 1,250 outlets in England, Scotland and Wales. Picture: Nick Ansell/PA Wire

“We have got a shortage of people in nursing homes and cleaners in hospitals - these are jobs that European people did and people won’t take these jobs on. That is why there is produce rotting in the fields.”

He said his company, which employs around 50 drivers split roughly evenly between people from the UK and Europe, has found filling vacancies to be a challenge.

“We are struggling to fill vacancies, everyone is. Drivers want more money and better terms, which you can understand,” he said.

Last month, the Government announced plans to streamline the process for drivers to gain a HGV licence but Mr Brown said attracting people to the roles is not easy.

“Drivers are a special breed of person. People nowadays don’t want to spend a week in an HGV and go here, there and everywhere. People want a work-life balance. The average age of our drivers is between 55 and 58. You get very few coming into the industry.”

He said while current problems are not all solely down to Brexit, it has had a detrimental impact.

“I can’t see where we have had any benefits up to now. We have had to take on 15 people just to do customs clearance for the goods we carry.

“We have been in business over 100 years and I have been involved for 50 years. The first three months of this year was the worst time I had at the company. Now we have the driver shortage.

“I don’t know what the solution is. They say they are training more people to be HGV drivers but how long is that going to take?”

It comes after the chairman of Tesco warned UK supermarkets could see food shortages at Christmas due to Brexit-related supply chain disruption, the chairman of Tesco has warned.

John Allan, who has overseen the country’s largest grocer since 2015, said the Government should change rules for lorry drivers to allow for more emergency workers from overseas to help solve the problem.

Retailers and restaurants chains, including Nando’s and McDonald’s, have been hit by product shortages as meat packers and other manufacturers have also faced significant worker shortages.

Mr Allan told BBC Radio 4’s World at One that supermarkets would normally be building stock now ahead of Christmas and that the “straightforward solution” to driver shortages would be “to allow UK industry to bring in skilled drivers from elsewhere”.

He added: “We are very short of drivers, it’s a combination of many EU drivers having decided to go home and also the ageing age-profile.

“I think certainly Brexit has been a contributor to that but also improving economies, higher wages in some of the countries that they’ve come from historically, have also led to that flow.”

He said there could be some shortages as a result but stressed it is important not to “over-dramatise” the extent of the issue yet.

He said: “At the moment we’re running very hard just to keep on top of the existing demand and there isn’t the capacity to build stocks that we’d like to see. So, in that sense, I think there may be some shortages at Christmas.

“But, again, I wouldn’t want to over-dramatise the extent to which that would be the case, I think it’s very easy to make a drama out of a modest crisis.”

Iceland managing director Richard Walker also warned the UK faces “big shortages” of lorry drivers, with the situation threatening Christmas products.

“Of course, we’ve got Christmas around the corner, and in retail we start to stockbuild really from September onwards for what is a hugely important time of year,” he said.

“We’ve got a lot of goods to transport between now and Christmas, and a strong supply chain is vital for everyone.

“The reason for sounding the alarm now is that we’ve already had one Christmas cancelled at the last minute. I’d hate this one to be problematic as well.”

Mr Walker added the chain has seen daily delivery cancellations as the disruption continues.

“We’ve had deliveries cancelled for the first time since the pandemic began, about 30 to 40 deliveries a day,” he said.

The retailer said it has seen particular lines, such as bread and soft drinks, impacted by issues facing suppliers.

Steve Murrells, chief executive of the Co-operative Group, warned that current food shortages are at a “worse level” than he has ever seen, with the company having to reduce product range to help serve customers.

He told the Times newspaper: “The shortages are at a worse level than at any time I have seen.”

Mr Murrells said the disruption to supply has been driven by “Brexit and issues caused by Covid”, and the firm is retraining staff as lorry drivers to help fill vacant roles.

Road haulage bosses have said there is a shortfall of around 100,000 drivers, partly caused by the exit from the UK during the pandemic of thousands of EU drivers who have not yet returned. Industry groups have also said training for new drivers is taking months, making the shortfall in numbers difficult to resolve quickly.

Labour shortages, which have also affected meat packing and fruit picking jobs, have caused shops and fast-food restaurants to struggle for stock.

Subway and McDonald’s are some of the latest victims of the shortages.

Sandwich shop chain Subway said it has seen “minor supply chain shortages” but stressed it has ensured that disruption to customers is minimal.

Meanwhile, McDonald’s ran out of milkshakes in most of its UK restaurants due to the ongoing supply problems.

The burger chain has also been left without bottled drinks across its 1,250 outlets in England, Scotland and Wales as the lorry driver shortage takes its toll.

A spokesman said the group is “working hard to return these items to the menu”.

It comes a week after restaurant chain Nando’s shut almost 50 restaurants because of reduced chicken supplies.

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