A shortage of delivery drivers in the UK could lead to empty supermarket shelves and delays to home deliveries, ParcelHero has warned.
According to the delivery firm, the departure of EU workers as a result of new Brexit employment rules has left the UK with a shortfall of up to 70,000 HGV drivers, prompting food wholesalers to demand that army drivers are put on standby.
"Home deliveries of food and goods are already being impacted by the driver shortage, with some stores also running low on stock," commented ParcelHero’s head of consumer research, David Jinks. "We could soon be facing shortages as bad as those at the start of the first lockdown, which could mean a return to the rationing of staple foods."
According to Jinks, such an issue could have been prevented – its analysis of UK government data last October found that 'thousands' of EU drivers and warehouse operatives were leaving the UK to avoid Brexit regulations, while COVID-19 meant that the training of new lorry drivers was brought to a standstill.
'A Perfect Storm'
"UK retailers and their supply chain partners now face a perfect storm," says Jinks. "Ken Murphy, the chief executive of Britain’s largest supermarket, Tesco, has admitted his company is having to 'work hard' to keep up with the shortfall, while some wholesalers say they have already reached crisis point as they attempt to deliver to supermarkets, pubs, schools and care homes."
The Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) has called for army drivers to be put on standby, while the Road Haulage Association (RHA), which represents freight transport companies, has called on the government to temporarily suspend drivers’ working hours restrictions and place the role of delivery driver on the UK’s Shortage Occupation list.
"Other organisations are calling for the government to temporarily suspend limits on the number of non-UK workers entering the UK because of the unfolding crisis," said Jinks. "That’s a plea currently falling on deaf ears, however, as the government insists: 'Employers should focus on investing in our domestic workforce, especially those needing to find new employment, rather than relying on labour from abroad'."
Drivers Play An 'Essential Role'
According to ParcelHero, in order to alleviate the situation, UK drivers need to be more widely recognised and compensated for the 'essential role' they play in supporting industry. In addition, the UK government needs to work closely with he EU to clear up issues around customs delays and charges, Northern Ireland deliveries and increased transport costs.
"That means revisiting some of the terms of the fudged, last-minute UK-EU Brexit agreement, which is clearly not fit for purpose," said Jinks.