Supply chain crisis: Thousands more HGV drivers to be trained - but not before Christmas

10 October 2021, 00:01 | Updated: 10 October 2021, 21:47

A shortage of HGV drivers has caused disruption to the UK's supply chains
A shortage of HGV drivers has caused disruption to the UK's supply chains. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Ministers will expand a fast-track scheme to allow thousands more people to be trained as HGV drivers, but the trainees will not finish their courses in time to alleviate the supply chain crisis in the run up to Christmas.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said on Sunday that 2,000 additional places would be opened up through "skills bootcamps" to boost the number of lorry drivers - but the courses, lasting up to 16 weeks, will not start until next month.

It brings the total number of new HGV drivers to 5,000, after ministers announced last month that 3,000 people would be able to train under the scheme.

"To help more people into the industry, we're expanding our skills bootcamps offer to support 5,000 people to gain the skills they need to be road ready, and to help those with previous experience refresh their skills so they can get back on the road," said Mr Zahawi.

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Downing Street acknowledged that the timeframe means the first fully-trained HGV drivers will not be "road ready" until February.

A further 1,000 people are expected to be trained through local schemes funded by the Government's education budget.

Places will be offered to drivers who want to return to the profession or upgrade their licence to transport dangerous goods such as fuel, as well as to newcomers.

Labour have hit out at the plans, with shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon calling them a "drop in the ocean" compared to what is required.

"It's clear the Government is either unwilling or unable to grasp the scale of the challenge facing Christmas," said Mr McMahon.

"The industry has warned that for Christmas food deliveries alone, an extra 15,000 drivers will be needed - not to mention the colossal gap ministers have already failed to plan for or properly address.

"If the Prime minister does not treat this crisis with the seriousness that is required and show real ambition in tackling it, working people will continue to pay the price with rising costs, rocketing energy bills and bare shelves this winter."

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The supply chain crisis has seen empty shelves in supermarkets in recent months, with shortages of a number of products including meat, fruit and frozen goods.

Around one in six adults in Britain have been unable to buy essential food items in the last fortnight, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The figure was almost a quarter for non-essential food items, with a lack of lorry drivers partly to blame for shortages after Brexit cut off a supply of labour from the EU.

The lack of lorry drivers has also seen shortages of fuel at petrol stations across the country as firms simply did not have the staff to make the necessary deliveries.

Army tanker drivers have been deployed to help fill petrol stations in the worst affected areas, which include London and the south east.