Driver shortage at ‘crisis point’ in NI, waste boss says

Northern Ireland-based waste management company RiverRidge has said a shortage of around 5,000 heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers in the country has “reached crisis point” for the waste sector.

RiverRidge said the shortage has reached crisis point

The commercial waste specialist urged the government to act swiftly as the crisis threatens to “erode environmental gains” such as increases in recycling rates, due to the “inevitable constraints” in waste collection capability.

In order to alleviate the pressure, the company’s chief executive, Brett Ross, has called on the government to implement three short-term measures.

The company firstly wants the government to address the current delay in turnaround times for driver testing to allow unqualified drivers to achieve their professional license at an accelerated pace.

It then recommends temporary work visas be granted to EU HGV drivers, as well as introducing an incentive scheme to attract younger people into a career as a professional driver.

Mr Ross said: “To say that we have reached a crisis point regarding the availability of drivers is no exaggeration. If this situation persists, it will severely impact the enormous gains we have worked hard to achieve at RiverRidge with regard to environmental performance, customer service and pricing, never mind the unimaginable repercussions if waste cannot be collected.”

‘Perfect storm’

The company described the situation in Northern Ireland as a “perfect storm” down to the mix of complexities from Brexit and the growing significance of the digital economy.

The supply shortage has also put upward pressure on cost, with RiverRidge seeing unprecedented wage inflation for its drivers which it said will inevitably lead to higher costs for customers.

The company, along with many others, is urgently seeking qualified drivers to join its team.

Shortage

The HGV shortage has been ongoing for a number of months, with many councils and waste management companies struggling to resume normal services.

The HGV shortage has been felt by industries across the UK

Many councils have suspended garden waste collection to prioritise collections, while companies actively recruit.

Veolia has recently called on parents to consider entering the role (see letsrecycle.com story), while FCC Environment has also called on the government to implement temporary worker visa’s (see letsrecycle.com story).

Government

Last month, three senior ministers wrote to the logistics sector outlining how the government will tackle the issue (see letsrecycle.com story).

In it, they said while the issue is for industry to lead on, the government is “here to help”.

It said the government will be looking at regulatory changes to help ensure more qualified drivers are available.

This includes working with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) to develop measures to maximise testing capacity for new drivers.

It also says job seekers will be encouraged to apply for roles where appropriate, while funding schemes are to be reviewed.

It was signed by the environment secretary George Eustice, alongside Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, and Thérèse Coffey, the secretary of state for work and pensions.

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