The Government has unveiled plans to help tackle Britain’s mounting lorry driver crisis, including easing driver qualification requirements and improved working conditions.
Ministers announced a consultation to allow drivers to take one test to drive both articulated and rigid lorries as part of a package of measures.
The logistics industry is facing an estimated shortfall of around 100,000 HGV drivers due to the pandemic and following Brexit.
In an open letter to the sector, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey and Environment Secretary George Eustice pledged to support recruitment and retention in the industry.
Other measures include giving drivers more official parking spaces and boosting standards of lorry parks to help encourage hauliers to stay in the sector.
But the plans were criticised by the Road Haulage Association (RHA) for failing to address “critical” short-term issues in the sector.
It comes as retailers face increasing woes due to the driver shortage, which is causing delays and cost hikes across the grocery and delivery sector.
Drinks mixer business Fever-Tree became the latest firm to warn over a hit to profits from the HGV driver crisis, which is also adding to higher global shipping costs due to the pandemic.
The ministers’ open letter hopes the plans for a single test will streamline the qualification process and boost lorry test appointment availability.
The consultation will also look at allowing trainers to examine drivers in the off-road manoeuvres part of the HGV driving test, and whether specific car and trailer tests should be required.
Almost 1,500 HGV drivers are taking their test each week, but the Government wants to increase this.
Mr Shapps said: “I understand the challenges faced by drivers and operators right now and while longer-term solutions must be led first and foremost by industry leaders, today we are saying this Government is here to help.
“This set of measures will kickstart that help, easing pressure on the sector as we work together to attract new drivers, improve conditions and ensure the industry’s future is a prosperous one.”
But the RHA said immediate action was needed.
Richard Burnett, chief executive of the RHA, 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 plans come after the Government last week announced a temporary extension to lorry drivers’ hours to help ease the shortage.
But unions warned over safety issues, saying the move could increase the pressure to drive while tired.