The UK government has revealed plans to streamline the process for new drivers to gain their heavy goods vehicle (HGV) licence following industry complaints about an acute shortage of large truck delivery drivers.

In an open letter to the road haulage industry, signed by ministers including Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Environment Secretary George Eustice, the government has pledged to ease driver qualification requirements to tackle the current shortage.

The problem was highlighted in a letter sent by the Road Haulage Association (RHA) to Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the end of last month. It was countersigned by Ian Wright, the chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), Nick Allen, the chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) and Richard Harrow, the chief executive the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF). The letter warned of supermarket delivery issues leading to empty shelves unless action was taken.

Separately, food manufacturers including Haribo and Premier Foods also highlighted the delivery problems they were facing for the same reason.

Reasons given for the driver shortage – estimated to be up to 100,000 hauliers – included drivers returning to their country of origin during extended periods of Covid-19-induced lockdown and not returning to the UK, as well as a similar exodus linked to the uncertainty of Brexit and their future rights to live and work in the UK.

In response, earlier this month the government relaxed regulations on how long lorry drivers can work in what was seen as a short-term measure to tackle the immediate problem.

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Now, in its letter to hauliers, the government has highlighted longer-term proposals, which are subject to consultation.

It said: “The driver shortage is well documented and its impacts on the wider economy are becoming more evident.”

The letter added: “The Department for Transport (DfT) will therefore consult about the delegation of the off-road manoeuvres as part of the Heavy Goods Vehicle driving test, which would increase overall testing capacity.

“DfT will also consult about issuing provisional licence entitlements to drive articulated lorries at the same time as issuing provisional licence entitlements to drive rigid lorries. This would allow candidates to move directly to taking articulated lorry tests, without also having to pass a rigid lorry practical test.

“These are practical improvements which we think could speed up recruitment.”

However, industry bodies have responded by saying the government’s plan is unlikely to solve the river shortage this year.

Logistics UK policy director Elizabeth de Jong said: “The plans revealed by government today only go part of the way to addressing the crucial problem areas that the industry has been talking with government about for years.”

And Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy & public affairs at the RHA, said: “The government’s measures are a start but don’t tackle the short-term delivery crisis we are all seeing now.”⁦