Raab: Bring in prisoners to solve HGV driver shortage, not 'cheap' foreign workers

21 October 2021, 08:24 | Updated: 21 October 2021, 17:54

By Will Taylor

Prisoners are set to be asked to fill up worker shortages like HGV driver vacancies as the Government hopes to plug skills gaps in the economy.

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Dominic Raab has told LBC he wants to draft in British ex-offenders and existing inmates to support the economy instead of relying on the "old addiction" of foreign labour.

The deputy prime minister and justice secretary said he believes the offer of a second chance will encourage them away from a life of crime and protect the public.

He is hosting an employers' summit with a view to recruiting more ex-offenders to companies, claiming they work hard because it's their second chance.

Mr Raab told LBC's political editor Theo Usherwood: "The call centres, the HGV companies, those with shortages, those who are recruiting and can't get British staff from outside prison to do the job - why shouldn't we actually say, do you know what, this is plugging some staff shortages, this is helping these people to go straight and this is cutting reoffending?

"So I say to the critics, look, I can demonstrate it works, this is making your community and the public safer – this is just win-win. It's smart policy and it's smart politics."

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Prisoners who have been put behind bars and face long spells or life in jail are not due to be part of the scheme.

While Mr Raab said the justice system ought to be "firm and robust", he said he wanted to implement what works to reduce reoffending, and concentrate on those towards the end of their jail term.

"If we give ex-offenders, the vast majority of whom will be released from prison, if we give them skin in the game, if we give them hope, if we give them something to lose, they're much much more likely to go straight and that's good for society, it's good for the public because it cuts crime.

"So this is frankly all about, for me, what works and public protection."

The Brexit-supporter estimated there are over a million vacancies that need filling, but dismissed claims that leaving the European Union was the reason for a lack of lorry drivers, citing problems on the continent, in China and in the US.

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Schemes involving accelerated HGV licensing and more visas have been offered to deal with the lorry driver shortage, which has caused disruption to fuel supply at forecourts and some empty shelves.

But Mr Raab said he wanted the economy to wean itself off from "cheap, unskilled labour" from abroad and instead start paying Brits more.

The Government is also "being very careful" about which prisoners are eligible for the work scheme.

"People want to see offenders do some honest toil to work their way back to social acceptance and I think those offenders are (as well)," he told LBC, adding that the Lyons Haulage firm he had spoken to reported it never had a problem with an ex-prisoner.

The minister added that one offender told him he viewed the job offer as a "chance to set things right".