Food or presents: HGV driver's stark warning about Christmas if shortages persist

6 September 2021, 21:59 | Updated: 6 September 2021, 22:43

By Will Taylor

The UK could face a choice between presents or food this Christmas should driver shortages continue, LBC has been told.

A "perfect storm" of Covid, Brexit and a drop in HGV tests has caused major disruption in supply chains, a logistics firm's boss said.

Speaking to LBC, Rob Hollyman, director of Youngs Transportation and Logistics, said Christmas might see British businesses make a stark choice.

"It could come down to food or pressies - or essential products or presents - but not both," he said.

He proposed retraining people who have lost their job as lorry drivers and running HGV tests around the clock.

Read more: UK faces two year 'perfect storm' of Brexit and Covid staff shortages

Read more: Bin lorry driver shortage sparks disruption to collections in councils across UK

Mr Hollyman's comments come as one industry body said hundreds of thousands of overseas workers who left during the pandemic or after Brexit, with shortages of waiters, chefs and construction workers also reported.

"It's becoming very, very difficult, it's getting worse almost by the week, not helped by the tactics of supermarkets, which I fully understand, to make sure they're getting sufficient drivers to get their shelves full or as close to full as possible," he added.

"They're advertising enormous salaries, Premiership football-style signing on fees and also retention bonuses after three months' work. I've seen numbers up to five or six thousand pounds.

"Who can blame drivers for moving where the money is? The problem is it's unsustainable in the general haulage market and I'm not sure where that's going to end."

The Confederation of British Industry, which represents 190,000 companies, said foreign workers had left the UK during the Covid outbreak and after stricter immigration rules came in the wake of Brexit.

Its director general, Tony Danker, said the "acute" skills shortages would be seen in more industries and may not be resolved until 2023.

Mr Hollyman said: "There's 40,000 HGV driving tests that haven't taken place in the last year, we had obviously Covid which is a factor but then on top of that we had Brexit as well, so we almost had a perfect storm in terms of driver shortages.

"I don't see where it ends, what I do see is what government can do to help.

"Use seven day a week and 24 hour-a-day, if necessary, HGV driving tests to clear that backlog.

"They could also, instead of retraining people that have lost their job, sad that that is, instead of retraining them in IT, how about training 40 and 50 year olds in HGV licences.

"They could actually say, well look, we're going to grant a dispensation for those drivers that are retired, or no longer driving professionally, so that they can come back into the industry to help us through this crisis.

"It's not too strong an exaggeration, it is a crisis."