The home delivery expert ParcelHero says the Government is currently engaged in ‘secret’ talks with supply chain professionals that could result in non-UK HGV drivers, including EU nationals, being called back to the UK on temporary visas.
ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks M.I.L.T., reveals: ‘It’s possible the Government could be on the brink of a massive Brexit U-turn as the shortage of skilled drivers threatens empty shelves in stores and delayed home deliveries.
‘Last October, ParcelHero released analysis of Government migration figures revealing that, due to Covid and Brexit, around a quarter of a million people from the EU had quit the UK since the start of the year. Without doubt, that’s contributed to a shortfall of around 70,000 HGV drivers in the UK.
‘The impact of the driver shortage is potentially so severe that we may soon be facing a situation similar to the start of the first lockdown, with empty shelves and even a return to the rationing of staple products.
‘The reason is all-too obvious. Our analysis of Government figures last October showed thousands of EU drivers and warehouse operatives fleeing the UK to avoid new Brexit regulations. Many EU citizens didn’t meet the Government’s proposed criteria for skilled work visas. This mass exodus was exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19, which brought the training of new lorry drivers to a standstill.
‘Controversially, the Government has extended driver working hours, a desperate move that led the Unite Union to warn its members not to “place themselves in danger” by working longer hours. The Road Haulage Association has called the move a “sticking plaster” that will not “make any material difference” to the shortfall of drivers.
‘The Government is left with two deeply unattractive options. It can call in the army – as the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) and some retailers and manufacturers have called for – or eat humble pie and ask EU-based truckers who left the UK after Brexit to return with temporary visas, alongside other non-UK drivers.
‘Logistics UK says, “Without a temporary visa for drivers – similar to that recently granted to agricultural workers to pick vital crops – the supply chain will break down.” The Road Haulage Association is also pleading for a seasonal visa scheme for qualified HGV drivers to aid the coronavirus recovery.
‘The Department for Transport is reportedly now in “behind doors” discussions with leading logistics professionals on how they can tackle the crisis and has asked the industry for evidence to demonstrate the value of a temporary visa scheme. While the Home Office has repeatedly dismissed the suggestion, the decision may be taken out of its hands if the situation continues to escalate.