Turbulent times for the haulage sector

Turbulent times for the haulage sector

Chief Executive | Road Haulage Association

I can honestly say that I have never known a time when there have been so many issues affecting haulage at the same time. It’s relentless. I recently looked back at the RHA archives and found that 70 years ago the industry was facing some tough challenges then too. It’s interesting to see that so many of the issues are the same – rates, fuel prices and, of course, a shortage of drivers. 
 
It’s been a turbulent couple of years since we voted to leave the European Union. British haulage firms who rely on drivers from across the Channel to drive their vehicles have found many of them concerned for their future in the UK. Some have been worried about a weaker pound affecting their quality of life, others about whether they’d be allowed to stay in a post-Brexit Britain. So, many have gone back to their countries of origin. To put it simply, and from a European driver’s perspective, the streets of the UK are no longer paved with gold.
 
We’ve called on operators to reassure their staff from the EU that they are wanted, valued and won’t have to leave the UK and that they should get full passports rather than rely on ID cards.
 
But this is only the tip of an extremely big iceberg. With a driver shortage currently standing at an estimated 45,000, it’s critical that we train a UK-based workforce. We have to reduce our reliance on the 60,000 EU drivers and 120,000 EU warehouse operatives already supporting the industry.
 
So how do we do it? It’s clear that the Government’s apprenticeship levy hasn’t really worked for our industry and is considered by many to be more of a tax than a benefit. Our sector has only drawn on a fraction of its contributions so it’s clear that something is not right. Many firms tell us that it’s too difficult to unlock funding.
 
We have been working tirelessly to find a way of accessing the levy that works for our industry and are close to coming up with a solution with Government to make Road to Logistics work.  
 
The principle behind Road to Logistics, a joint initiative between Microlise and RHA, is to match jobseekers with employers and help those from diverse backgrounds, such as ex-offenders, to find a way back into paid employment. It will also provide the framework and infrastructure that is so desperately needed to make the most of the apprenticeship levy while tackling the skills shortage. 
 
Every year 100,000 people are released from prison but only 17 per cent move into employment on release. Suffolk’s Sudbury Prison has been at the forefront of the trial for Road to Logistics. Prisoners interested in the road haulage sector during their release on temporary licence have gone to a local employer where they’ve gone on to get their HGV licence and transition into full-time employment. 
 
Road to Logistics can provide the mechanism to get people back into work. Crucially for our sector it can help us to close a chronic shortage of skills.
 
But until we can encourage more UK citizens to take up a driving career in the industry on which the entire business and manufacturing industries heavily rely, we need all the workforce support we can get.
 
The recently published report on post-Brexit immigration policy, concerns the impact of migration from the European Economic Area on the UK economy and society and recommends that workers from EEA countries should not be given preference over those from other nations.
 
We need an immigration policy across all skill levels. It is about what our businesses need. The idea that only high skilled immigration should be allowed is both ignorant and elitist.
 
The logistics industry, like many other industries, needs skilled and semi-skilled staff, capable of meeting the needs of our customers. This includes lorry drivers, forklift drivers, transport managers, warehouse operatives and highly skilled logistics IT specialists.
 
Without a driver to drive the lorry or a forklift driver to load it, businesses, hospitals and supermarkets will suffer. Trucks deliver daily life. This report, in effect, puts the brake on those crucial deliveries.