Driver shortage: 50,000 more HGV driving tests promised a year

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The government has confirmed plans to speed up the process of obtaining an HGV driver licence, amid a nationwide shortage of drivers.

Up to 50,000 more HGV driving tests will be made available each year by shortening the application process and the tests themselves, it said.

The UK faces a shortfall of around 90,000 drivers, which has hit the supply of food, petrol and other goods.

However, industry groups said the new plans did not go far enough.

Lorry driver shortages have been blamed on EU workers leaving the UK following Brexit as well as during the pandemic and tax changes making it more expensive for drivers from elsewhere in Europe to work or be employed in the UK.

In a written statement to the House of Commons, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the government would now overhaul regulations to boost capacity, meaning:

  • Car drivers will no longer need to take a separate test to tow a trailer or caravan, allowing roughly 30,000 more HGV tests to be conducted every year
  • Tests will be made shorter by removing several elements and having them tested separately by a third party
  • Drivers will be able to get a licence to drive an articulated vehicle without first getting one for a smaller vehicle, making around 20,000 more HGV driving tests available every year.

Mr Shapps said the changes, which still need to be approved by parliament, will generate additional test capacity "very rapidly".

He added: "These changes will not change the standard of driving required to drive an HGV, with road safety continuing to be of paramount importance."

Industry groups are sceptical about the plans - elements of which were published earlier this week - warning that they could affect safety.

They also reiterated calls for temporary work visas to woo back around 20,000 EU drivers who have left the industry - something the government has rejected.

600 drivers being lost a week

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
More than 6,300 lorry drivers spent Christmas 2020 queuing to enter the Port of Dover when France closed its border with the UK

"This is a sensible move but it's not enough to fix the problem," Paul Jackson, managing director of Peterborough-based cold and chilled food logistics firm Chiltern Distribution told the BBC on Thursday.

"We don't put newly-qualified drivers straight behind the wheel on their own. We buddy them up with experienced drivers for the first eight to 10 weeks and the insurance costs for new drivers are also much higher.

"We desperately need to put HGV drivers on the list of skilled workers we can bring in from abroad."

Richard Burnett of the Road Haulage Association said the industry was losing 600 drivers a week and it would take nearly two years to fill the net shortfall.

A host of companies have been hit by the driver shortage, while some are offering higher wages and retention bonuses to woo recruits.

Supermarket Morrisons has warned the crisis will push up prices, while restaurant chain Nando's temporarily closed 50 sites, blaming supply chain issues.

And BP temporarily closed a "handful" of its UK sites, due to not being able to get petrol and diesel to them.

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