Organisations representing the UK’s retail and transport industries are calling on the Government to allow temporary work visas for EU lorry drivers to alleviate a shortage impacting food supplies.

In the wake of Brexit, the country is grappling with a shortfall of qualified haulage drivers after EU workers left for their home countries, a problem exacerbated by Covid-19.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) estimates there is a shortage of 90,000 heavy goods vehicle drivers, a situation made worse by a backlog of people in the UK waiting to take their tests as a result of the pandemic, while the training of haulage drivers remains a lengthy process.

The BRC and Logistics UK, which represents the transport industry from road to rail, sea and air, are urging the Government to review rules on temporary work visas for EU nationals and have penned a letter to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. But they also say that would be a short-term solution and are pressing for local measures to speed up the driver training process.

A reform of the National Skills Fund to bring in funding and create more flexibility in apprenticeships could fast-forward HGV driver training programmes, the organisations say, while improving Covid-19 testing facilities and allowing daily testing of EU drivers could help alleviate the shortage.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “We are calling on the Government to rapidly increase the number of HGV driving tests taking place, provide temporary visas for EU drivers, and to make changes on how HGV driver training can be funded.

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“The UK faces a shortfall of 90,000 HGV drivers and it is consumers who will ultimately suffer for this.

“Retailers are increasing pay rates, offering bonuses and introducing new driver training schemes, as well as directly supporting their suppliers in the movement of goods, but Government will need to play its part.”

David Wells, the CEO of Logistics UK, said the transport industry “cannot solve the problems faced by our sector on our own”.

Wells added: “As we approach the Christmas peak, during which time retailers rely on timely and plentiful deliveries, it is vital that our sector has access to the highly trained staff it needs so that we can keep delivering for the British retail sector and the UK as a whole.”

In July, the Government said it would streamline the process for HGV licences. In an open letter to the road haulage industry, signed by ministers including Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Environment Secretary George Eustice, the Government pledged to ease driver qualification requirements.

The driver shortage was addressed in a letter sent in June from the Road Haulage Association to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. 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 of The British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF). The letter warned of supermarket delivery issues leading to empty shelves unless action was taken.

The letter said prior to the pandemic, it was estimated there was a shortage in excess of 60,000 HGV drivers but claimed several factors had exacerbated a shortage now at “crisis point” with the number at more than 100,000.

The BBC, meanwhile, quoted a government spokesperson as saying on Friday (20 August): “The British people repeatedly voted to end free movement and take back control of our immigration system and employers should invest in our domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad.

“We recently announced a package of measures to help tackle the HGV driver shortage, including plans to streamline the process for new drivers to gain their HGV licence and to increase the number of tests able to be conducted.

“We have also temporarily relaxed drivers’ hours rules to allow HGV drivers to make slightly longer journeys, but these must only be used where necessary and must not compromise driver safety.”