The HGV driver shortage has eased significantly in recent months, as almost half the drivers who left the profession during the pandemic have now been recovered, official data shows.
The number of HGV drivers in the UK grew by 30,000 in Q3, reflecting a 40% recovery in the drop in numbers since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the ONS quarterly labour survey released last week.
Kieran Smith, CEO of Driver Require, said it was “startling news” and showed the shortage was moving to “severe” rather than “crisis” levels.
While the labour force figures are only an approximation based on a limited survey of workers by telephone, they are the best available measure for estimating the size of the HGV driver pool.
But despite the rising numbers, the industry is still unable to halt a steady flow of drivers leaving the profession. Around 9,000 HGV drivers under the age 45 left the workforce in Q3, according to the figures, almost cancelling out the number who entered the workforce in the same age bracket.
“That is really not good,” said Smith. “That just confirms the belief that there is a problem with retention.”
Food and logistics businesses have introduced a range of measures to attract drivers since the summer, but the businesses proving most successful weren’t necessarily the highest payers, said Shane Brennan, CEO of the Cold Chain Federation, at the Transport Select Committee on Wednesday. “It’s often the SMEs who have a better relationship with their drivers.”
The government’s efforts to increase driving test capacity, meanwhile, seems to be having an effect, according to the ONS figures. The number of drivers under 35 grew by 5,000, which Driver Require, a logistics think tank, attributed to the enhanced testing regime in a new report.
Dave Lewis, the government’s supply chain tsar and former Tesco CEO, told a group of logistics professionals last week that testing capacity had doubled from 1,410 per week to 2,850 since the summer and would rise again to 3,300 within the next few weeks. However, there were still about 600 empty test slots each week, he added.
The biggest jump came in drivers over-45 – an extra 27,000 came into the workforce in Q3 – most of whom were suspected to be qualified drivers returning for better wages and conditions, according to Driver Require. Some 53,000 drivers aged over-45 left the sector in the first three months of this year.
In total, the number of HGV delivery drivers grew from 233,000 in Q2 to 261,000 in Q3, still short of the 301,000 in workforce before the pandemic.
The Road Haulage Association has now revised its estimate of the scale of shortage from 100,000 down to 80,000. “There is still a shortage, no question. But deliveries are happening more effectively than they were a few months ago,” said Rod McKenzie, MD of policy at the RHA.
Certain Christmas supplies remain under strain. A group of 48 wine and spirit companies, including Pernod Ricard, Moët Hennessy and the Wine Society, wrote to transport secretary Grant Shapps this week to warn that supermarkets could run dry of booze unless more was done to alleviate the driver shortage.
They urged Shapps to extend a temporary visa scheme for HGV drivers beyond February, help smooth congested freight routes from ports, and provide more regular updates on how many new driver licences were being processed by the DVLA.