Sector ‘making good strides’ with driver shortage

Lord Goldsmith says the waste sector has taken “good strides” in making employment “attractive” to tackle the national shortage of HGV drivers, which continues to force councils to cancel collections.

Former Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith was awarded a life peerage after losing his seat in Richmond Park in December 2019. This allowed him to retain his ministerial role at Defra (picture: House of Lords)

On 15 September, Lord Jones of Cheltenham asked the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in a written question what plans the government had to assist local authority waste and recycling departments with driver shortages.

Lord Goldsmith, Defra’s minister for the Pacific and the environment, responded on 1 October, saying the government had recently announced “a significant package of measures” to address the issue.

These measures include plans to “streamline” the process for new drivers to gain their HGV licence and increased capacity for HGV driving tests (see letsrecycle.com story).

Lord Goldsmith claimed the driver shortage was a “widespread problem” caused by “a range of factors including an ageing workforce”, as demonstrated “across Europe”. However, many councils blame Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lord Goldsmith said: “We are moving to a high wage, high skilled economy and the government is encouraging all sectors to adapt and make employment more attractive to UK domestic workers through offering training, careers options and wage increases.

“The waste sector is already making good strides in this, highlighting that many rounds can be conducted close to home with defined hours, promoting a healthy work/life balance.”

Measures

On 25 September, the government announced measures which it said would allow up to 4,000 people to train as HGV drivers.

In August, ESA members reported an average of 15% vacancy rates for driving roles

It also said the Ministry of Defence would deploy their defence driving examiners to increase the country’s testing capacity in the following 12 weeks.

Nearly one million letters have been sent to drivers who currently hold an HGV licence, encouraging them back into the industry.

The government said 5,000 overseas HGV drivers would be added to the existing visa scheme to provide “short-term relief” for the haulage industry until Christmas. With recruitment due to begin this month, the visas will be valid until 24 December. However, the government said in a statement that “visas will not be the long-term solution” and claimed that “reform within the industry is vital”.

Shortage

In what one company called the waste sector’s “biggest challenge of the pandemic yet”, a national shortage of staff has caused a wave of disruption to services in recent weeks (see letsrecycle.com story). The shortage has been attributed in part to self-isolation regulations causing a ‘pingdemic’ and to tougher new immigration rules after Brexit.

North Somerset council claimed one of its in-house HGV drivers was “poached” by another firm while out on a round, as competition for trained personnel ramped up (see letsrecycle.com story).

In early August, a letter written by senior figures in the sector and sent by the Environmental Services Association (ESA) called for a two-year derogation to the points-based immigration rules for trained HGV drivers (see letsrecycle.com story). At the time, the ESA’s members reported an average of 15% vacancy rates for driving roles.

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