Shortage of truckers causing empty shelves
Driver wanted, Norfolk. Salary range from £ 46,000 to £ 54,000. Includes uniform, £ 26 nightly allowance and £ 10 per day for meals.
You would think people would line up to get into the cab of a heavy truck with those wages. But a driver shortage means supermarkets are struggling to stock their shelves, amid warnings things could get worse.
A double whammy of a backlog of heavy truck tests caused by Covid and foreign drivers returning home due to Brexit has exposed the Achilles heel of our economy.
But that’s not the only reason carriers like Fakenham-based Jack Richards and Son are struggling to recruit staff.
Things were very different when the late founder of the company, Jack, hit the road with his first truck in the 1950s, delivering fruit and vegetables from the Fens to wholesale markets in the East Midlands.
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His business grew in the 1960s and 1970s as the way we shop changed. Supermarkets have replaced greengrocers. Processed foods replaced fresh produce and the supply chain was born.
Instead of being placed almost directly on the market, the products were washed and graded before being sent to the packing station. Then it left for the warehouse before being delivered to the store.
Fakenham-based Jack’s yellow truck fleet has grown steadily to meet demand as our food miles skyrocketed.
Today, the company’s 350 trucks are part of a larger group with 2,500 trucks carrying names known like Kellogg’s Cornflakes, as well as the raw materials to make staple foods like baked beans.
Food travels across the country before ending up in our shopping carts. Road transport has become the heart of the economy.
But here is the catch. Because if there aren’t enough people to drive the trucks, the shelves will soon be empty.
Jack Richards Managing Director Dominic Purslow said: “It’s all a supply chain issue.
“Say Tesco needs boxes of baked beans. Beans go by truck to the factory, sugar goes by truck to the factory, vinegar goes by truck to the factory.
“The steel has to go from Wales to Norwich to be made into boxes. The cardboard and ink should go to the people who print the labels, before going to the people who make the boxes.
“It’s a huge problem right now across the industry.”
The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency estimates that we have about 76,000 less drivers than we need. He warns that the shortages are likely to become “acute” as Christmas approaches. Toys and turkeys might be missing, in other words.
The DVSA simplifies the procedures for taking a HGV test with the aim of reducing the number of learners waiting to take it. But he warns that this requires a change in the law, which will take time.
Mr Purslow said even if carriers could train more drivers, they would not be able to screen them to certify their skills, leaving companies at the mercy of the DVSA backlog.
Industry executives say the shortage has been made worse by the fact that thousands of foreign drivers are returning home because of Brexit.
They are asking for the creation of temporary visas to allow them to return to our roads.
But Mr Purslow said there was another reason the £ 54,000 salaries were not filling the driving positions. Thousands of people who are allowed to drive trucks for a living are choosing other ways to make a living from long working hours, the stress of driving on our increasingly congested roads and poor conditions.
“Truck stops are no longer there,” Purslow said. “The highway services charge us huge sums for parking at night, but they have the worst facilities – dirty toilets, dirty showers. Drivers have to find a parking area with whatever it means for their personal hygiene. .
“Welcome to the world of trucking: here’s a nice new uniform, here’s a nice new truck – oh, and here’s a plastic bottle to use for the washroom. No wonder the drivers are turning their backs on the industry.”
* We are broadcasting a series of special mover reports over the coming days on the shortage crisis and the impact on the region and its people.