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The United Kingdom is going through what the industry chiefs have warned to be “a summer of food shortages” due to the loss of nearly 100,000 HGV drivers following the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit, consequently leading to delays and rising prices across the grocery and delivery sector. 

Let’s take a look at the contributing factors, impact, and how key players view the situation, along with solutions to improve the road ahead.

The root causes

Multiple factors have contributed to the driver’s shortage, including but not limited to:

  • Drivers returning home to Europe
  • Backlog of 40,000 lorry tests because of coronavirus
  • Reformed tax rules, making it more expensive for drivers from elsewhere in Europe to work or be employed in the UK
  • The consumer buying behaviour change since the pandemic

As the chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, Richard Burnett, has said, “Truck driving in the UK has been dominated by eastern European drivers in recent years but Brexit and Covid have created the “perfect storm” for the sector.”

Impact on the supermarkets and farmers

Supermarket chains have advised the shortage is affecting fresh food with short shelf life the most and are having to apologise to many customers because of gaps on the shelves brought about by a chronic lack of drivers. Farmers raised their concerns in the farming community for the late summer grain harvest in addition to soft fruits.

How is the supply chain coping?

Experts have said the driver shortage causes significant challenges including gaps on the shelves, delays in getting products to shelves, and while not likely that people will go hungry, the typical options or choices consumers have been accustomed to will be very limited due to the difficulty in meeting demands.

The British Army’s involvement

James Bielby, head of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) made a call for military intervention back in June. He said: “The situation has reached crisis point and it is likely to get worse as more hospitality venues open and demand increases.” The government is planning to bring in around 2,000 Army truck drivers. They are being put on a five-day standby notice for driving jobs at major distribution centres around the country.

To help with the crisis, the following course of actions have been implemented:

  • Soldiers to be put in hotels where needed and work extended hours to assist with the crisis
  • Distribution includes the transportation of some essential goods and medical supplies

What’s the government’s intervention plan?

The government has opted for the following new measures to support the haulage industry:

  • Support recruitment and retention in the industry
  • Driver’s qualification requirements to be eased and improve working conditions to attract more drivers
  • The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) will ensure nearly 1500 HGV drivers are taking their tests each week
  • Allowing drivers to take one test to drive both an articulated and rigid lorry
  • To streamline the process for new drivers to gain their HGV license and increase lorry test appointment availability
  • A temporary extension to lorry drivers’ shift hours to help ease the shortage from 9 to 10
  • Giving drivers more official parking spaces and boosting standards of lorry parks to help encourage hauliers to stay in the sector
  • Trainers to examine drivers in the off-road maneuvers part of the HGV driving test, and whether specific car and trailer tests should be required

RHA (Road Haulage Association) point of view

RHA argues that the government’s plan is likely not to solve the issue on a short basis, and extending the number of shift hours temporarily will only add more pressure on lorry drivers.

RHA Chief Executive, Richard Burnett said, “This is a step in the right direction long-term, but it doesn’t address the critical short-term issues we’re facing. The problem is immediate, and we need to have access to drivers from overseas on short-term visas. The idea to simplify training and speed up testing is welcome; along with encouraging recruitment, it will only improve things in a year or two’s time.”

How can BluJay help?

BluJay has a range of solutions that offer capabilities to address and help improve the main challenges of the issue. For example, some of the TMS benefits include:

  • KPI monitoring
  • Efficiency benefits
  • Resource management improvements
  • Better collaboration between shippers, hauliers and suppliers

Alongside these specific modules, each with its own benefits:

  • TMS Gatehouse Driver Check-in
  • Yard Management

The driver shortage is set to get worse over the coming weeks, with ‘return to work’ prompting more deliveries, and the holiday season approaching. As the search for a permanent solution continues, supply chain managers would be wise to adopt agile technologies that alleviate the strain and make everyday tasks frictionless.

In the absence of enough drivers to get the goods flowing frictionlessly, this end can still be achieved through data, networks and applications. At the border,  automated customs declarations and remote submission to HMRC can vastly reduce hassle and worry. When trade is disrupted, connecting with global trade networks can smoothly orchestrate resilient trading worldwide. And the vast increase in customer expectations for fast and high-quality delivery is more easily tackled by technologies that increase visibility for both drivers and customers. With the breadth of available technologies, drivers needn’t fear the supply chain of today…or tomorrow.

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