As if the past year has not been tough enough for the fmcg and logistics sector, businesses are now having to deal with another growing crisis: a shortage of drivers.
With Brexit drastically halting recruitment from the EU, a growing backlog of driving tests caused by the pandemic and IR35 tax changes leading many drivers to quit the industry, this shortage has quickly become a growing crisis for the sector, and the customers it serves.
If this continues, it is not just businesses that will have to re-evaluate their entire supply chain, but consumers may also be affected. If products cannot get to the supermarket shelves, on-shelf availability naturally decreases and, with this limited supply, the price of goods could be drastically inflated. Supermarkets and wholesalers face having less flexibility to meet spikes in demand and may need to cap volumes of their products – and we are already seeing reports of this from leading wholesalers such as AF Blakemore.
It’s not just the consumers’ pockets that will be affected. With almost 5,000 HGV learner drivers losing more than £180,000 last year due to suspended practical tests, those that have the qualifications to work are experiencing huge demand for their work and companies are left to foot the bill. Costs for hiring out of hours and weekend driving shifts will become particularly high as the crisis worsens.
To combat these driver shortages, the sector only has two solutions.
Either each company needs to completely re-evaluate its entire logistics and transport operations to reduce the need for as many drivers, or the government must provide the much-needed support that the industry has been demanding for so long.
In reality, both steps will be needed in tandem. Businesses can do their best to collaborate with their suppliers, as well as find ways to reduce the number of trucks needed by optimising delivery routes. However, this alone is simply not enough.
The scale of this crisis, intensified by Brexit, the pandemic and new tax changes, means that government must also acknowledge the need for practical and financial support. Just as businesses are getting back up to speed after one of the hardest years, this continued disruption caused by driver shortages could be catastrophic. So the government must provide monetary grants to support the industry, amend immigration policy to place drivers on the shortage occupations list and significantly increase the availability of HGV driver tests after the blockage created by the coronavirus lockdowns.
The industry’s demands for support must be heard and acted upon, or this crisis could get much worse.