European heavy goods vehicle (HGV) could be granted short-term visas amid new plans being discussed to help tackle the national driver drought.
According to the reports from The Telegraph and the BBC, the government is exploring a temporary short-term visa scheme for foreign lorry drivers as one of numerous potential emergency measures to deal with the crisis.
Over the weekend, The Telegraph reported that Department for Transport (DfP) ministers have been holding secret talks with industry leaders to discuss possible solutions to the deficit of 100,000 HGV drivers, which has already hit supermarket shelves.
It is understood that transport leaders are pushing for a temporary easing of immigration rules, which would see lorry drivers be added to the “Shortage Occupations” list enabling them to qualify for a skilled workers visa.
However, the government is understood to be strongly opposed to these proposals, pushing instead for the industry to employ British drivers.
The issue is that drivers take between six and nine months to train, and the pandemic has caused a significant backlog in both training and testing meaning British drivers are simply not available.
“We need long-term solutions to recruit a new generation of British lorry drivers into the trade, but short-term there is an urgent need for foreign drivers to be allowed in, under the Shortage Occupations list,” managing director of policy at the Road Haulage Association (RHA) Rod McKenzie said.
It comes as the industry warned that the shortage was on the verging on becoming a major crisis in the UK, threatening to severely disrupt supply chains of everything from fresh food to clothing, leading to a potential five per cent increase in food prices.
Retailers have become increasingly vocal about the issue, with Sainsbury’s warning last week that it was facing shortages of strawberries, salad and other fresh produce, while Ocado said it had begun lending staff to its suppliers who have been hit by the shortage.
Tesco has also warned that the crisis was creating 48 tonnes of food waste each week, the equivalent of two lorry loads.
Logistics UK’s general manager of public policy Alex Veitch warned that the situation has “already become a crisis” and that without immediate action “the supply chain will break down”.