Hauliers urged to invest in their people

Giving evidence to the Transport Select Committee last month, Roads Minister Baroness Vere was asked to give a short answer on what the haulage industry can do to improve supply chain issues: Her answer was: “If you were to ask me if there is just one thing the sector can do – just one thing – it is to invest in their people.”

Speaking to haulage operators, Baroness Vere said: “Why can’t you be like the bus sector and pay to train your people? Don’t expect them to pay for it themselves. Three grand before you even have a job is a lot of money.”

The transport minister was speaking at the final evidence session of the Transport Select Committee on road freight supply chain. In particular, the committee is looking into:

  • driver supply numbers
  • changes to testing
  • driver hours legislation and cabotage rules
  • driver retention, including pay, conditions, and facilities
  • driver recruitment, including apprenticeship and diversity
  • the image of the sector
  • the wider challenges facing the road freight supply chain, such as changes to border procedures, infrastructure, and decarbonisation.

Asked whether the UK now has sufficient HGV driver numbers in place or whether there is still some way to go to plug the gap, Baroness Vere answered: “Although we believe that we will see significant easements throughout the course of this year—we think that the situation is getting better, and the industry is reporting to us that it is getting better—we do not think that the shortage will be substantially or completely resolved until 2023.”

Asked if she thinks it is the Government’s role to fix the shortage, Baroness Vere responded: “The Government has a role to play, but this is a private sector. It involves owners and operators from the private sector and the customers are predominantly in the private sector, so the long-term solution lies with the industry and its customers, to ensure that the system is working.

“It is such a long-standing issue. So many of the things that were identified in 2016 remain the same today. I have challenged the industry about modernisation, but, as we know, it is an extremely fragmented industry. The haulage sector operates on very limited margins, which means that they do not invest in their people, and we end up with the situation where they plan day to day, use agency workforce and do not think strategically and long term about the future.”

Beacons of hope


Baroness Vere emphasised that many firms are making a huge effort to attract and retain staff: “The sector employs a vast number of people. For example, I have met DHL and seen what they are doing with their training academy. It is fantastic. They are getting in a diverse group of people to become HGV drivers. They are paying for their training and their CPC. That is really positive. There are some great beacons of hope.”

New HGV driver testing


Baroness Vere acknowledged that one of the challenges for test centres, is that demand is patchy around the UK. Some centres struggle to recruit the required number of examiners to match local demand: “We know that the number of HGV tests in December went up by 73% between 2019 and 2021. We are currently on HGV driving test wait times of about three weeks, which is not too bad considering that you have to be trained anyway. We know that the demand is still there.”

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