'Why are ballerinas needed but not lorry drivers?': Govt ridiculed over job shortage list

24 September 2021, 06:45 | Updated: 24 September 2021, 08:11

The Government has been ridiculed over ballerinas appearing on the shortage of occupations list
The Government has been ridiculed over ballerinas appearing on the shortage of occupations list. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

A lorry industry boss has ridiculed the Government for including ballerinas on the list of much-needed workers, instead of HGV drivers.

Supplies in supermarkets and petrol stations have been brought about by a shortage of hauliers, with consumers being urged to avoid panic buying.

Fears of a "winter of discontent" – invoking the 1970s crisis that endures in the memories of many – have been raised.

BP said it had shut a "handful" of its filling stations due to a lack of available fuel, while Esso's owner, ExxonMobil, said some of its Tesco Alliance petrol forecourts had been affected.

The Government has been told to relax immigration rules as warnings emerged that 100,000 more HGV drivers were needed from abroad to meet demand.

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Rod McKenzie, of the Road Haulage Association, said: "Why have we got ballerinas on the shortage occupation list and not lorry drivers?

"Lorry drivers supply everything we need – ballerinas are great artistically but we really do need more drivers that ballerinas in this country."

The Government's website explicitly states all four countries of the UK have a shortage of ballerinas.

Its description of the roles the country is missing states: "Dancers and choreographers – only skilled classical ballet dancers or skilled contemporary dancers who meet the standard required by internationally recognised UK ballet or contemporary dance companies."

There is no reference to lorry or HGV drivers.

Read more: BP to ration fuel deliveries to petrol stations as company hit by HGV driver shortages

Read more: Shelves empty, pumps dry and bills soar, but No10 says 'shop as usual'

The shortage comes after Brexit led to the loss of drivers from the European Union, the Covid pandemic stopped driving tests and issues within the industry around pay and conditions.

The Government is streamlining the testing system, aiming to carry out 50,000 exams a year.

The shortage has not only affected fuel – supermarkets have seen serious reductions in stocks, and images of empty shelves have been widespread in recent weeks, forcing vendors to bump up drivers' salaries to ensure supply.

Labour's shadow justice secretary David Lammy said on the BBC: "What we are looking at is a winter of discontent. We have shortages of staff, shortages of supply and shortages of skills."

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted the issue was a global one, and said he had not ruled out adding HGV drivers to the skilled worker list – but believed that would not solve the problem.

Oil giant BP told the Government in a meeting that its ability to transport fuel from refineries to its forecourts was faltering.

Hanna Hofer, the company's head of UK retail, said the situation was "bad, very bad", and that the group has "two-thirds of normal forecourt stock levels required for smooth operations" – a level that is "declining rapidly", ITV News reported.

Andrew Woolfenden, Distribution and Fulfilment Director at Tesco, has warned: "Our concern is that the pictures of empty shelves will get ten times worse by Christmas and then we'll get panic buying."

An ExxonMobil spokesman said: "A small number of our 200 Tesco Alliance retail sites are impacted.

"We are working closely with all parties in our distribution network to optimise supplies and minimise any inconvenience to customers."

A Tesco spokeswoman said: "We have good availability of fuel, with deliveries arriving at our petrol filling stations across the UK every day."

A Government spokeswoman said: "There is no shortage of fuel in the UK, and people should continue to buy fuel as normal."

Gordon Balmer, an executive director at the Petrol Retailers Association, recommended drivers keep enough fuel in the tank to reach other petrol stations in the "rare instance" their first choice does not have any available.