Where have all the UK HGV drivers gone? Also, how did we get to the point where the number of people who described themselves on the last UK census as Jedi is higher than the number listed their profession as an HGV driver? How could this affect the number of customs bank guarantees issued this year?
(Jedi 390,127 vs HGV drivers 300,000)
The current HGV driver problem is generally thought to be caused only by Brexit, when in fact figures from Logistics UK show that there was already a shortage of around 75,000 drivers before the United Kingdom formally withdrew from the European Union. The demand for HGV drivers has been increasing year on year for the past decade.
One question for the UK government is that if these figures and resulting trends were known during the Brexit transition period, why on earth did they incentivise new HGV drivers then rather than sitting on their hands and causing the problems we have today?
The number of drivers has remained steady at 300,000 stretching the workforce to their limits. Whilst the number of UK drivers have remained flat the number of new EU drivers within the United Kingdom haulage industry swelled from 10,00 to 45,000 between 2010 and 2017.
The haulage industry has therefore been reliant on the EU workforce to help prop up the industry, especially at times of increased demand, Christmas being an obvious example. This reliance on HGV drivers from the European Union has long been a point of contention. In fact, in July of 2016, a number of MP’s lobbied the transport industry to reduce dependence on EU drivers.
However, the pressure MP’s put on the haulage industry to solve the problem was not matched with government support to fund the incentives required to gain new HGV drivers. Drivers who would be entering into a job which is crucial to the national interest and at the same time very expensive for new drivers to obtain the necessary qualifications.
There are many theories, the most popular of them being “all the EU drivers left after Brexit”, and this is when the shortage occurred. Indeed, the immigration changes post-Brexit, meant that EU drivers could no longer live and work in the United Kingdom. More drivers then left the industry with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Research shows that the exit of the EU drivers represents only part of the problem. According to data, approximately 70,000 drivers departed the industry during the pandemic. Figures show that prior to the pandemic there were 37,000 EU drivers and now there are only 24,500. Therefore, EU drivers that have left the industry, (12,500) account for only 18% of the total number of drivers that left.
Figures also show that over 50,000 British nationals withdrew from the industry in the past 18 months. Interviews with many drivers revealed that causes for leaving were lack of driving tests during the pandemic, changes in the tax code, retirement and working conditions.
The average age of HGV drivers is 55, therefore retirement is certainly playing its part in a diminishing HGV drivers pool. In fact, in 10 years from 2010 to 2020 driver retirements have risen from 7,500 per annum to 10,000 per annum resulting in 4% of all drivers retiring each year.
But what about recruitment? Interestingly the number of drivers passing their HGV tests between 2015 and 29019 was three times the retirement level. So why is there a shortfall? It appears that many successful applicants decided not to enter the HGV market.
Statistics show that there are over 230,000 HGV licence holders under the age of 45 who have decided not to do commercial haulage for a living, despite having paid £3,000 to acquire an HGV licence.
There are a number of reasons as to why we have so many qualified drivers who are not working in the commercial haulage sector. The main reasons given from a recent survey suggest that unsociable hours, salaries and working conditions such as safe and secure rest places are shouldering much of the blame. Also, there are an easier lifestyle working for Ocado, Waitrose, Amazon and other home delivery companies.
The Uk government anticipated that after Brexit the number of customs declarations would increase by approximately 270 million. This in turn would be likely to increase dramatically the number of Customs Bank Guarantees.
Customs guarantees are used to speed up the customs process by ensuring the payment of customs duties and therefore removing delay during payment, and making the transit of goods through the ports and airports quicker.
However, due to the fact, there is a shortage of HGV drivers and an associated long delay in the physical transit of goods through ports and airports, there is currently less advantage to the use of customs bank guarantees. This is because the payment process can happen in the spare time, while the slow logistical movement of goods occurs.
Whilst the government has announced they will fast track visas for EU drivers, this will be fine for the short-term, which is better news for Christmas. However, as a long-term fix, it is akin to a plaster being used on open-heart surgery. Furthermore, countries such as Poland, Germany and France are suffering their own HGV driver shortages, so the pool of EU drivers available to the UK is dwindling.
It is a must that the government and the haulage industry re-engage with the home-grown HGV workforce and put into place the incentives that they knew were required as long ago as 2016. Apart from the 230,000 available drivers under 45, it is estimated that there are roughly one million drivers in the UK that hold an HGV licence.
So what improvements have been made? Salaries have increased by approximately 20% across the board for HGV drivers, and the government is assigning Ministry of Defence examiners to increase the availability of HGV driving tests. Free intensive training camps are being offered to train 5,000 new drivers, and driving rules have been relaxed to allow drivers an increased daily driving limit of eleven hours a day, up from nine hours.
The government is also writing to the one million drivers with HGV licences to encourage them to return to HGV driving. However, the haulage industry must improve work conditions and pay more attention to health and mental health needs. Finally, HGV drivers must be treated with the respect they deserve as we know now, even if we did not before that they are a crucially important part of the UK economy.
As the issue is eventually resolved the number of customs bank guarantees issued is likely to increase as importers try to speed up the process of getting goods through customs.