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Temporary visas for foreign lorry drivers will NOT solve supply crisis

Temporary visas for 5,000 foreign lorry drivers will NOT solve supply crisis, haulage boss warns

  • Haulage boss Toby Ovens said temporary visas will not solve the driver shortage
  • He argued that the HGV driver shortages were down to wages rather than Brexit 
  • A major shortage of HGV lorry drivers is threatening to wreak havoc this winter 
  • The Government is expected to announce temporary visa scheme this weekend 

A temporary visa scheme, expected to be announced by the Government this weekend, will not solve supply issues, a haulage company boss has warned. 

Toby Ovens, managing director of Broughton Transport Solutions, said he is not convinced a temporary visa scheme will solve the current shortage of HGV drivers.

He argued the shortage of HGV drivers is mainly down to driver wages rather than problems from Brexit, which he said he did not believe was a factor in the sector’s problems.

A major shortage of HGV drivers threatens to wreak havoc this winter, and the shortage has been exacerbated by a huge backlog in HGV tests due to Covid, as well as foreign drivers returning home amid the pandemic and Brexit. 

The Prime Minister is expected to grant visas for thousands of foreign drivers in a bid to tackle the shortages, while soldiers will also be drafted in to help at HGV testing sites to clear a backlog of drivers trying to get licences. 

But Britain is said to be short of more than 90,000 drivers, partly the result of coronavirus which cancelled the training and testing of tens of thousands of workers, and there are concerns an additional 5,000 may be too little, too late to halt the chaos.

Driver shortages are hitting every part of the economy, creating gaps on supermarket shelves, jeopardising the supply of key chemicals to water firms and increasing fears fuel shortages could bring the economy to its knees.

When asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether such a scheme could help alleviate the shortage, Mr Ovens said: ‘I personally don’t think so.

Toby Ovens, managing director of Broughton Transport Solutions, said he is not convinced a temporary visa scheme will solve the current shortage of HGV drivers (file image)

Drivers queued throughout the night to fill their cars with petrol amid HGV driver shortgage. Pictured, queues at Sainsbury’s Alperton petrol station at 5:45am as the issue continued

Frenzied buying has caused flare ups at gridlocked filling stations today (pictured in Tonbridge) as motorists ignored Government pleas for calm

The chaotic scenes (pictured in Southport) came as Boris Johnson prepared U-turn on demands to change visa rules to offer visas to 5,000 foreign lorry drivers in a bid to tackle the shortage

Driver shortages are hitting every part of the economy, creating gaps on supermarket shelves, and increasing fears fuel shortages could bring the economy to its knees (pictured people queue for petrol in Newmarket, Suffolk)

‘No, I think a lot of what we’re seeing at the minute is down to essentially the driver wages.

‘Margins in haulage are very tight and the reality is the money isn’t there to pay the increased wages without substantial price increases to customers.’

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps stressed that transport firms were offering huge salaries in a bid to entice drivers who have left the industry to come back – with one ‘top milk firm’ apparently offering as much as ‘£78,000-a-year’.

And Mr Ovens confirmed he has given his drivers a pay rise once already this year in a bid to lure more people into the industry and said he is looking at providing another pay rise already.

He added: ‘That’s obviously going to involve another price increase for customers but, unfortunately, that is necessary at the present time.’

Mr Ovens said he did not believe Brexit had been a factor in the sector’s problems, with the improvement in living standards in eastern European countries – where lorry drivers have tended to hail from in recent years – meaning people are choosing to remain with their families rather than come to the UK for work. 

Meanwhile, Tony Danker, the director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said the expected announcement that visa rules will be relaxed for foreign workers is ‘a huge relief’.

Motorists ignored Government pleas for calm as they jammed roads to panic buy petrol into the night on Friday amid fears that fuel shortages could bring the economy to its knees

A BP at Hampton Court says ‘Sorry we’re out of diesel’ after frenzied buying saw stations swamped by panicked customers

Driver shortages are hitting every part of the economy, creating gaps on supermarket shelves, leaving pubs and restaurants short of key produce and jeopardising the supply of key chemicals to water firms (pictured, people queueing for fuel in Rochdale)

The problems were triggered after BP and Esso admitted on Thursday that a lack of tanker drivers was hitting deliveries (pictured, gridlock at a petrol station in Tonbridge)

Tony Danker told BBC Breakfast: ‘Hopefully it is going to happen and it is a huge relief.’

He continued: ‘We’ve been calling for it for three months we could see this problem coming and more problems coming, and so it’s a shame the Government needed queues at the pumps to move, but move I hope they have and it will help.’

Mr Danker warned that as well as lorry driver shortages, there were also labour shortages, supply chain and energy problems.

‘I think what we need is the Government to grip these things with us in business and get ahead of them rather than behind them,’ he said.

Mr Danker added: ‘It’s taken a bit of a crisis to force their hand, but I really hope the Government follows through on what we’re hearing because that would provide some relief and get us started again.’

The head of the CBI said current labour shortages are ‘a little bit of a Brexit hangover’ as the Government considers relaxing visa rules.

Tony Danker told BBC Breakfast: ‘We had several drivers go home that we wouldn’t have wanted to go home and I think there is this bigger question of the immigration system, and it’s a complicated one.’

He continued: ‘Essentially the Government said ‘look, post-Brexit, let’s have an immigration system that only lets in the skills we need, not the skills we don’t’.

‘Well, I think what we’re realising is there are some skills we need in the short run, we need to bring them in (but) not forever.’

Mr Danker said he hoped plans to relax visa rules was an indication of the Government taking a more practical approach to immigration.

Ministers have been accused of dooming Britain to a Winter of Incompetence as panic buying of fuel escalated amid talks on giving temporary visas to foreign HGV drivers.

Motorists ignored Government pleas for calm as they jammed roads and police had to be called in to marshal drivers amid fears that fuel shortages could bring the economy to its knees. 

A major shortage of HGV drivers threatens to wreak havoc this winter, and the shortage has been exacerbated by a huge backlog in HGV tests due to Covid

Job market data from September 13 to September 19 shows firms in the UK need, in total, more than 36,000 chefs, around 32,000 sales assistants and 6,500 bar staff

Photographs show desperate motorists queuing for petrol at 5.45am this morning at Sainsbury’s Alperton station as the hunt for fuel continued overnight. 

Parents on the school run on Friday could not get to the pumps, while the elderly and traders were among the many thousands of motorists caught up in the frenzy. 

Meanwhile, around 400 stations owned by the EG Group is limited customers to £30 worth of petrol to give everyone a ‘fair chance to refuel’. 

The Government has been lambasted for failing to see the problems coming as huge queues developed at petrol stations, with fears rationing might even be needed.

Despite desperate assurances from the Transport Secretary that there is no shortage of fuel in the country and people should ‘carry on as normal’, queues of cars built up at garages across the country.

The EG Group has limited customers to £30 worth of fuel to try to manage the sudden demand in supply. 

In a statement, a spokesperson said: ‘Due to the current unprecedented customer demand for fuel and associated supply challenges we have taken the decision to introduce a limit of £30 per customer on all of our grades of fuel.

‘This excludes HGV drivers and emergency services due to their vital role at this time. This is a company decision to ensure all our customers have a fair chance to refuel and to enable our sites to carry on running smoothly.

‘We kindly ask everyone visiting our sites to treat our colleagues, supply chain partners and customers with respect during these very challenging times.’ 

Jane Smithson, 62, a retired carer who was stocking up on fuel in Eltham, south-east London, said: ‘I’m gobsmacked, the world’s gone mad, I just cannot believe it.’ 

In the face of the chaos, ministers seem to be on the verge of agreeing to shore up the numbers of HGV drivers by granting temporary visas to EU nationals – something that retailers and industry have been demanding for months but they previously resisted.

Environment Secretary George Eustice is thought to have been pushing for the move along with Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay.  

Boris Johnson has also been put under pressure to deploy soldiers to drive petrol trucks as a major shortage of HGV drivers threatens to wreak havoc this winter.

MPs have said the Army could be used as a short term fix amid increasingly dire warnings over the damage the driver shortage could do in the coming weeks unless urgent action is taken. 

Vehicles bumper-to-bumper in Harpenden as they try to get into a BP garage today

Desperate motorists wind their way into a choc-a-bloc petrol station at a supermarket today

The news led to a race to the petrol pumps (pictured in Cardiff, Wales) with the result that hundreds ran out of some fuel types and dozens closed altogether

Parents on the school run could not get to the pumps, (pictured in Hampshire) while the elderly and traders were among the many thousands of motorists caught up in the frenzy 

As well as drafting in soldiers, the Prime Minister is expected to buckle and grant visas for thousands of foreign drivers in a bid to tackle the shortages. 

When questioned about this on BBC Breakfast, Mr Shapps said: ‘If it can actually help, we will bring them in.’ 

The Government has set up a taskforce run by the former Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay to address supply chain issues.

Howard Cox, founder of the FairFuelUK Campaign, blamed the Department for Transport for not tackling the driver shortage. 

He added: ‘Pump prices will rise in direct relation to the ‘don’t panic’ scaremongering messages from this clueless Government.’

A Downing Street spokesman said last night: ‘We have ample fuel stocks in this country and the public should be reassured there are no shortages.’ 

Ministers held crunch talks on Friday afternoon to thrash out a solution to the shortage. It came as retailers on Friday warned ministers they have just 10 days to save Christmas from ‘significant disruption’ due to the lack of drivers. 

The British Retail Consortium said that disruption over the festive period will be ‘inevitable’ unless the shortfall of an estimated 90,000 drivers is addressed.  

Ministers have reportedly discussed contingency plans for the Army to be brought in to drive petrol tankers to station forecourts but it is thought they would only be enacted as a last resort.  

Tory MP Marcus Fysh said that bringing in the Army would ‘not be an unreasonable way to think about dealing with an issue’.  

He said: ‘If there is a problem that needs to be fixed in the near term then that might be a way of fixing it.’ 

Mr Shapps, who has previously been sceptical saying that businesses should pay Britons more to take the jobs rather than rely on cheap labour from abroad, struck a notably softer tone in interviews this morning. 

But critics question why it has taken so long to address the problems, as companies have been raising alarm for months about the brewing crisis. 

The driver shortage has been exacerbated by a huge backlog in HGV tests due to Covid, as well as foreign drivers returning home amid the pandemic and Brexit.

The Prime Minister is expected to buckle and grant visas for thousands of foreign drivers in a bid to tackle the shortage, while soldiers will also be drafted in to help at HGV testing sites to clear a backlog of drivers trying to get licences

Many forecourts in London and other cities were closed or running low on both unleaded and diesel (pictured, handwritten signs warning there was no fuel available at a station in Manchester)

SIDCUP, KENT: Queues of cars spill out on the road from a Kent forecourt today after fuel bosses warned of rationing and petrol station closures

The scenes of queues outside petrol stations (pictured in Brockey, London) come amid fears of a 1978-style ‘winter of discontent’ for the UK, with rising energy prices and fuel rationing

Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds conceded that other countries were also experiencing shortages of HGV drivers.

‘I have to say, however, that there have been big failures in planning for this situation and the additional red tape that has been created, which was not inevitable, it was not an inevitable result of Brexit in many cases, but that hasn’t been tackled by Government,’ she said.

‘I talk to advanced manufacturers in my patch for example, and they tell me that now they have got to fill in dozens of pages of paperwork and that is quite a tall order for a HGV driver if they have got to be dealing with all of that, as well as getting goods from one place to another.

‘So undoubtedly the Government’s method of implementing Brexit has had an impact overall on the system, but there are other factors that are in play here.

‘And I think their failure to consider whether they need to ask that Migration Advisory Committee about a different approach to shortage occupations – I really do think they should be engaging with business on this and listening to them.’

BP said it will restrict deliveries of fuel because of a lack of HGV drivers, which has also impacted supermarkets and raised fears of food and even toy shortages over the Christmas period. 

The oil giant is understood to have informed the Government that its ability to transport petrol and diesel from its refineries is being heavily impacted by the supply chain crisis. 

BP’s Head of UK Retail, Hanna Hofer, told the Cabinet Office on Thursday last week that it was important that the Government understood the ‘urgency of the situation’ which she branded ‘bad, very bad’.

Ms Hofer warned that the company had ‘two thirds of normal forecourt stock levels required for smooth operations’ and that levels were ‘declining rapidly’. The restricting of deliveries is expected to begin ‘very soon’. 

The scenes of queues outside petrol stations – which for some will stir up memories of the 1973 Opec Oil Crisis and the 2000 fuel shortage – come amid fears of a 1978-style ‘winter of discontent’ for the UK, with skyrocketing energy prices, food shortages and fuel rationing.

The Petrol Retailers Association has added to the rising sense of carnage by urging motorists to ‘keep a quarter of a tank’ of fuel in their vehicles in preparation for potential closures of local petrol stations.

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