Just dozens of foreign HGV drivers take up 5,000 visas but Shapps says that's good

15 October 2021, 08:38 | Updated: 15 October 2021, 10:24

Mr Shapps insists he did not want the foreign drivers anyway
Mr Shapps insists he did not want the foreign drivers anyway. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

A Government bid to attract foreign HGV drivers has attracted merely dozens of people, the Transport Secretary has admitted - but he's claimed he didn't want them anyway.

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Grant Shapps told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast that despite a bid to tempt 5,000 into easing the shortage of drivers with short-term visas, the scheme has attracted a tiny fraction of that.

On Wednesday, Oliver Dowden told LBC he believed the figure was around 20.

Speaking on Friday, Mr Shapps said: "Very few (have been added to the fleet)… just dozens, not hundreds, not thousands.

"And we always said actually we don't think this is the answer."

Asked by Nick why the policy was put in place if he felt it wasn't the correct solution, he said: "The haulage associations were insisting."

Read more: 'Hopeless': Minister says just 20 out of 300 foreign HGV driver visas have been processed

Read more: Polish HGV driver: EU hauliers find UK visa proposal 'pretty amusing'

When Nick asked if that meant the haulage associations were now telling the Government what to do, Mr Shapps said: "No, far from it.

"I think it's right that you test every avenue, if you've got something like this happening you don't leave any stone unturned.

"We've turned that stone – it's not the solution that some in haulage thought it was.

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"Actually the solution, as we've always thought, is to train up British workers to do the job and 25 measures that we’ve taken, streamlined getting an HGV licence, have meant that we've seen three times as many people apply.

"We've now got spaces for people to do the test… after coronavirus, tens of thousands of lorry drivers couldn't take their test to get their lorry licence, we now have space."

Despite Mr Shapps' insistence that the Government wants British workers to take up HGV roles – and earn higher pay for doing so – the fact just dozens of overseas workers took up posts means it falls well short of recruiting help it hoped for.

And ministers already seem keen to make sure overseas workers help with the strain caused by a lack of HGV drivers.

They are suspending "cabotage" rules, which limit deliveries that can be made within the UK by foreign transport operators.

Logistic lines around the world have been stretched under the demand of economies that are reopening from coronavirus lockdowns.

It has led to fears about shortages in the run up to Christmas demand, combined with a perfect storm of soaring gas prices and worries about energy supplies as winter kicks in.