Retailers and recruiters fear gaps in supply chain as pool of workers shrinks.
Christmas deliveries in the UK could be hampered by a shortage of lorry drivers as the potential pool of workers shrunk to its lowest level since records began in 2005, according to recruiters.
A lack of truck drivers has long been an issue for UK businesses as the popularity of the profession has decreased among British workers. But this year the problem has worsened, with 83 per cent of recruitment firms supplying temporary drivers to supermarkets and retailers saying they anticipate driver shortages being a “significant problem” in the run-up to Christmas.
The survey of 29 specialist recruiters was conducted early this month by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation.
Andrew Waldron, managing director of the Agency Drivers Network, the UK’s largest lorry driver supplier, said the shortage was set to be worse than in previous years. ADR’s supermarket clients include J Sainsbury, Marks and Spencer, Lidl and Wm Morrison. Heavy goods vehicle drivers are a vital part of stores’ Christmas supply chain.
“It will be worse — if you look at unemployed drivers this year and the number last year, there’s been a reduction … it is virtually zero in England,” said Mr Waldron.
The number of HGV drivers out of work in September was at its lowest since ONS began collecting data in 2005, with just 520 drivers in the UK claiming job seekers allowance.
But hundreds, if not thousands, of extra temporary drivers are needed over the festive season, a peak demand time for which distributors begin planning in August. For example, NFT, a food distributor with a fleet of 600 trucks, puts on an extra 300 vehicles for the three days before Christmas. In total, it adds 600 staff across its business.
“At the moment everybody is feeling pretty bullish about Christmas,” Mr Waldron said. “So demand won’t fall but we know supply has fallen.”
Jack Semple, policy director at the Road Haulage Association, said there was “an endemic shortage” that the industry was working hard to solve. Figures from the Freight Transport Association published last month calculated that nearly 35,000 additional lorry drivers were needed.
Some in the industry say the shortage is being exacerbated by eastern European lorry drivers returning home. Mr Semple said it was “a very strong concern” for some RHA members.
Maciej Witucki, chief executive at WorkService, Poland’s largest human resources company, said the UK was becoming a less popular destination for Polish workers. In a recent survey of 1,000 Polish jobseekers, 14 per cent said they were aiming to work in the UK, down from 30 per cent in 2015.
Martin Ratz, managing director of specialist European recruiter Paragona Group, said his company had received five times fewer applications for UK driver positions following the vote to leave the EU, compared with a year ago.
Some 10 per cent of lorry drivers in the UK are EU nationals, according to the FTA.
Others argue that longstanding structural problems are to blame for the acute shortage of lorry drivers this year, citing the high cost of HGV licences, the often difficult working environment and potential recruits being attracted by other employment opportunities, including van driving.