Council says RCV drivers ‘poached’ while working

North Somerset council says one of its in-house HGV drivers was “poached” by another firm while out on a round, as the impact of the national driver shortage continues to bite.

Cllr Solomon said the North Somerset Environment Company currently employed 79 drivers (picture: NS Recycling & Waste)

In recent weeks, factors such as the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit have contributed to a national shortage of HGV drivers, meaning those with relevant qualifications are highly valued.

Mike Solomon, North Somerset’s councillor with responsibility for waste, told letsrecycle.com that the driver had been with the council for 11 years and was not looking for a new job. Cllr Solomon said the driver was offered a 10% pay increase to join the new firm.

Cllr Solomon told letsrecycle.com: “I wouldn’t be surprised if there were people whose job it was to approach drivers while their lorries were parked at service stations or petrol stations or places like that.”

The council “lost” four drivers last week, Cllr Solomon said, while it had two drivers off due to illness this week. As such, the council has suspended garden waste collections for two weeks until 17 September.

According to the Road Haulage Association, the UK faces a “catastrophic shortage” of 100,000 drivers. It claims around 40,000 HGV driver tests were cancelled last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Incentives

Cllr Solomon said the council was looking at “various ways” to incentivise drivers to stay. This includes awarding long-service bonuses, though he warned he had to think of the whole workforce and not just drivers.

Things are only going to get worse

– Mike Solomon, North Somerset’s councillor with responsibility for waste

In the meantime, Cllr Solomon said, the council was asking people to cut holidays short, training new drivers, using agency staff, and looking particularly at those from the armed forces. However, he said there was no quick fix. “Things are only going to get worse,” he warned.

Cllr Solomon said that, prior to Brexit, the council employed a number of drivers from Eastern Europe. It was now difficult for them to get work permits, Cllr Solomon said, given they were not considered skilled workers.

North Somerset

Representing a population of nearly 215,000, North Somerset council had a household waste recycling rate of 60.6% in the 2019/20 financial year.

North Somerset has suspended garden waste collections until 17 September as a result of the driver shortage (picture: North Somerset council)

North Somerset took waste services in-house under the umbrella of a wholly council-owned company, the North Somerset Environment Company, in April this year (see letsrecycle.com story). The council’s previous contractor, Biffa, agreed to the termination of its £50 million contract around four years early.

Usually, North Somerset collects recycling and waste weekly and garden waste fortnightly. Recycling and waste collections have been unaffected by delays or cancellations so far.

Cllr Solomon said North Somerset currently employed 79 drivers, leaving them around 10 short. He said the council was training a further nine at the time of writing, but they would be unable to take their tests until late November.

He added that attracting new drivers was “not a new problem” and had been problematic for 17 years. Long hours and difficult conditions made it difficult to convince younger people to become HGV drivers, Cllr Solomon said.

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