Following a letter written by Logistics UK and British Retail Consortium, the Business Secretary has responded by rejecting calls to utilise skilled workers visas to help ease staff shortages.
Kwasi Kwarteng, Business Secretary, has stated that HGV drivers from abroad will not be eligible to receive skilled workers visas in order to meet the growing demand.
This comes as Brexit, the pandemic and a reform to IR35 rules have taken a toll on the number of drivers, leading to a current shortfall of around 90,000 HGV drivers and having negative implications for supply chains overall.
According to research carried out by Logistics UK, the pandemic halted driver training and testing for more than 12 months, while an estimated 14,000 EU drivers returned home during the pandemic and following the end of the transition period.
This has already had a notable impact on restaurants such as Nando’s and McDonalds which reported food shortages over the last few weeks as a result of a lack of staff.
As such, the two business groups, Logistics UK and British Retail Consortium, wrote to Mr. Kwarteng and suggested the use of temporary work visas as well as reforming the National Skills Fund which, they argued, could help to ease shortages. This, it claimed, would also allow time for new HGV drivers to be trained, clearing a sizeable backlog which is forecast to extend to 2022.
However, Mr. Kwarteng rejected these suggestions, calling this a “short-term, temporary solution”.
Instead, the Business Secretary stated that the winding down of the furlough scheme, which is set to occur at the end of September, will provide a chance to “ensure UK-based workers are better able to secure decent employment opportunities”.
Mr. Kwarteng also expressed that the Government is offering £7,000 per apprenticeship for people training to be lorry drivers. This is in addition to grants available for the long-term unemployed to move into industries which are facing labour shortages.
However, Logistics UK claimed that the industry “needed drivers now” – a call which was also supported by the Institute of Directors.
Roger Barker, the IoD’s director of policy, stated:
Whilst UK business should certainly be investing in the skills and capabilities of the domestic workforce, that is unlikely to be a solution to short-term labour market shortages.
The government needs to adopt a more pragmatic approach, including a more flexible visa regime, which alleviates some of the current pressures on business.