Unprecedented HGV driver shortage a “crisis of national importance” as supermarkets lose tonnes of fresh produce

Supermarkets are missing massive deliveries of fresh produce which is being left to rot in containers due to an unprecedented shortage of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers.

UK retailers are being hit hard by an “acute shortage” of HGV drivers, leading to “perfectly good, graded and packed fresh produce being dumped or left rotting in cold stores”, according to Nationwide Produce managing director Tim O’Malley.

O’Malley said the severe labour shortage had seen one major supermarket chain failed to receive an expected 22 full loads of produce this weekend, adding that it is likely to lead to a spike in prices for fresh produce.

Speaking to the Fresh Produce Journal he said that the shortage of drivers was due to the vast majority of them being EU nationals, who have returned home during the pandemic and been prevented from returning to the UK.

HGV drivers were not added to the government’s list of skilled labour meaning new arrivals to the UK need complex immigration paperwork.

This was exacerbated by a change in the rules of self-employment which have driven a 25 per cent increase in agency driver charged, alongside the pandemic which saw no new British truck drivers trained within the last 12 months.

READ MORE: UK retail recovery is being hampered by staff shortages

O’Malley dubbed the issue a “crisis of national importance”, adding: In all my years in fresh produce I’ve never seen anything like this.”

The British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) director of food and sustainability Andrew Opie said: “Retailers are aware of a fall in HGV driver numbers and are working with their suppliers to ensure that consumers still have the same great selection of fresh produce.

“Nonetheless, a long-term solution is needed, and we need Government to increase the number of HGV driving tests.”

According to new data from KPMG and the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) companies across the UK starting to ramp up their businesses after lockdown are struggling to fill positions.

Despite demand for new workers hitting their highest level for 23 years, the data suggests the supply of trained staff is shrinking at its fastest level in four years.

This shortage, which has reportedly shot up in all 10 job categories monitored by the researchers, is largely due to ongoing pandemic uncertainty and the impact of Brexit, seeing a sharp fall in workers from the European Union.

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