United Kingdom

Empty supermarket shelves: 100,000 HGV driver shortfall could mean 18-month food struggle

But the idea of drafting in drivers from the army will do little to improve the situation, experts have warned – with the Government stressing this was not on the cards in any case. Problems have been blamed on a combination of Brexit and the pandemic, and have been worsened by the so-called “pingdemic” of workers forced to isolate themselves after being alerted by the NHS Covid app.

At a meeting, last month between officials from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and food industry representatives, Premier Foods, one of the UK’s biggest food companies, asked the government to consider using the army to distribute supplies, given that some military personnel hold HGV licences – but the idea was swiftly rejected.

Speaking yesterday, Rod McKenzie, Managing Director of Policy & Public Affairs of the Road Haulage Association (RHA), told The Sun: “There are 2,000 qualified HGV drivers in the Army – we’re 100,000 lorry drivers short.

“Another issue is Army drivers are used to driving Army lorries and not civilian vehicles.

“We need to address what to do to get another 100,000 drivers.”

Speaking to Sky News last week, RHA chief executive Richard Burnett added: “It’s going to take at least 18 months to train the number of drivers that we need.

“It takes 12 to 16 weeks to train a new driver let alone through their HGV test.

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“While we might not always have the exact product a customer is looking for in every store, large quantities of products are being delivered to stores daily and our colleagues are focused on getting them onto the shelves as quickly as they can.”

Andrew Opie, Director of Food & Sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “A shortage in HGV driver numbers has resulted in minor disruption to some supply chains, delaying the restocking of some items in some areas.”

Supermarkets were working closely with suppliers to ensure consumers were able to get hold of all the goods they need, Mr Opie stressed.

He added: “Nonetheless, Government must rapidly increase the number of HGV driving tests taking place, fill gaps by providing visas for EU HGV drivers, and also look for a longer-term solution to this issue.”

Speaking last month after the meeting, a Premier Foods spokesman said of the army suggestion: “This was one of many ideas put forward in an industry brainstorming session.

“At Premier Foods, we have plans in place to manage the situation within our supply chain.”

A spokesman for Britain’s Ministry of Defence said it had not received a formal request to provide support.

A government spokesman later said: “There are no plans to use military personnel in this scenario.”

Speaking today, a Government spokesman said: “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.”

There are no Government plans to use the military, Express.co.uk understands.

Express.co.uk has approached the RHA for further comment.

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