Lorry drivers fall by 53,000 in four years: ONS figures show 17% drop

Lorry driver numbers fall by 53,000 in four years: ONS figures show 17% drop due to fewer tests during Covid, ageing workforce and shortage of EU nationals, as hauliers tell MPs supply chain crisis is ‘not getting better’

  • ONS analysis found a 17 per cent plunge HGV drivers in the UK down to 268,000
  • This was in the year to June and is down from a higher peak of 321,000 in 2016-17
  • But industry figures put the shortage of drivers in the UK at a far higher 100,000
  • It comes as the RHA said that the current disruption is ‘not visibly getting better’

The number of lorry drivers in Britain has plunged by 53,000 over the past four years with the fall the largest among middle-aged hauliers, official figures reveal.

The Office for National Statistics said analysis of the annual population survey showed a 17 per cent plunge HGV drivers in the UK to 268,000 in the year to June, down from a peak of 321,000 in 2016-17.

But industry figures have put the shortage of lorry drivers in the UK at a far higher 100,000.

It comes as the Road Haulage Association told MPs the shortage of lorry drivers and resultant disruption is ‘not visibly getting better’ despite government measures.

The Office for National Statistics said analysis of the annual population survey showed a 17 per cent plunge HGV drivers in the UK to 268,000 in the year to June, down from a peak of 321,000 in 2016-17 (file photo)

The ONS report underlines the issues facing the crisis-stricken haulage industry, with an ageing workforce, a shortage of EU nationals and mounting costs and red tape.

The ONS said there were nearly a third fewer – 29 per cent – lorry drivers working in the UK aged between 46 and 54 than in the year to June 2017, with a 34,000 drop.

Nearly a third of all hauliers in the UK were aged 56 or over in 2020-21, with just under 20 per cent aged between 19 and 35.

The figures showed the impact of the pandemic on the number of EU drivers working in the UK, with a 12,000 or 30 per cent plunge since 2017.

The number of UK lorry drivers has fallen by 15 per cent, or 42,000, in the same time.

Most of the decline has been seen in the past two years, particularly during the pandemic, which has taken its toll on EU drivers willing to work in the UK.

It comes as the Road Haulage Association told MPs the shortage of lorry drivers and resultant disruption is ‘not visibly getting better’ despite government measures. Pictured left to right: Duncan Buchanan, director of policy at the RHA, Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, and Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation at the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee today

This has seen record numbers of transport and storage vacancies in the UK – at 52,000 in the three months to the end of September, up 49 per cent up on the January to March 2020 pre-pandemic level, and with HGV drivers making up around 10 per cent of that sector.

The lorry driver shortage is taking its toll across most sectors in the UK, increasingly leaving supermarket shelves bare and recently sparking a crisis on Britain’s petrol forecourts and forcing the army to step in to help with fuel deliveries.

The ONS said a recent survey showed nearly a third (29 per cent) of adults in the UK said they struggled to buy certain groceries, medication or other essentials.

It said the lorry driver shortage was likely to be one of the factors impacting the availability of items.

Retailers are also increasingly reporting issues with global freight costs and availability, with ports in the UK and worldwide turning ships away.

Retailers are also increasingly reporting issues with global freight costs and availability, with ports in the UK and worldwide turning ships away. Pictured: Rishi Sunak earlier this month

UK businesses have also reported a hit to imports and exports from Brexit, which has led to extra paperwork and higher costs, according to the ONS.

The UK haulage sector is also battling to bring on board more workers, with testing having been impacted by the coronavirus crisis.

ONS data shows that there were 16,022 practical driving test passes of the type required to become an HGV driver in the year ending June 2021, compared with an average of 41,731 a year over the previous five-year period.

The Government has recently allowed temporary visas for EU lorry drivers in a bid to address the shortage, while also changing the driving test requirements among a number of measures to help bring on board more HGV workers.

Bosses from the haulage, recruitment and food sectors today warned ministers at the Government’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee over the current scale and impact of drive shortages.

The Road Haulage Association previously warned of a shortage of around 100,000 drivers and said the issue has not improved despite efforts from government.

Duncan Buchanan, director of policy at the RHA, told the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee: ‘Things are very challenged at the moment.

Duncan Buchanan (pictured), director of policy at the RHA, told the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee: ‘Things are very challenged at the moment’

‘There are widespread shortages of lorry drivers, which are leading delays and frustrated trips.’

He added: ‘Among, our members we are still getting reports that this hasn’t eased at all.

‘Things are not visibly getting better at this stage, and I know there are a number of measures that have been put in place, stepping up training, stepping tests, but on the ground that isn’t having much of an effect.’

Last week, the Government announced a change to cabotage rules to allow foreign HGV drivers to make an unlimited number of pick-ups and drop-offs in order to help ease the supply chain disruption.

It had also previously announced measures such as 5,000 three-month long visas for non-UK lorry drivers.

Mr Buchanan warned the change to cabotage rules will ‘suppress’ wages which have been rapidly increasing as a result of high demand.

Ian Wright (pictured), chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, told the committee ministers need to consider the ‘terrifying’ rise in inflation amid supply chain issues’

He said wages have risen by between 10 per cent and 20 per cent over the past six months, depending on location and area of the sector.

The trade body director also said ‘institutional complacency’ in the Department for Transport about freight had contributed to the issues.

Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, added that ‘snobbery’ in policy-making has contributed, suggesting that sufficient training resources have not been given to certain sectors such as haulage.

Meanwhile, the chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation stressed there is ‘enough food’ but getting some products to shelves is still being impacted by supply challenges.

Ian Wright also stressed soaring food inflation, amid rising wage, energy and commodity costs, poses a particularly large challenge.

He said: ‘The committee really needs to think seriously about inflation. In hospitality, inflation is running between 14 per cent and 18 per cent, which is terrifying.

‘If the Prime Minister is, as I know he is, serious about levelling up, inflation is a bigger scourge than almost anything because it discriminates against the poor.’   

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