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Improve lorry drivers’ conditions or slap new tax on sector, say MPs

MPs have urged the government to give the road haulage sector two years to improve conditions for lorry drivers as well as recruit more workers or impose a new tax.

The group of MPs said the sector needed to deliver sufficient drivers, workers and facilities, including high-quality services and welfare.

While there is a shortage of lorry drivers across Europe, Brexit has considerably worsened the problem in the UK as many come from other parts of the EU. This was coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic which saw many UK-based foreign lorry drivers return to their home countries, with few of them coming back to the UK since.

There have also been tax changes making it more expensive for drivers from elsewhere in Europe to work or be employed in the UK.

If the sector does not improve within two years, MPs on the Commons Transport Select Committee said the government should implement a 'Supply Chain Levy' to assist in building facilities and training new drivers.

The levy would require the parts of the supply chain where margins are greatest – such as large retailers, oil companies and online service giants – to deliver improved standards and resilience to the supply chain which they themselves require.

Such a mechanism must be accompanied by government planning reforms, the report says, which includes recognising driver facilities as key national infrastructure assets, to be delivered through a planning framework at a central level.

The findings of a current lorry parking survey should be used to set regional targets for building additional parking capacity for drivers, with a joint government-industry taskforce to keep it on track.

The report urges the government to set a minimum standard for driver facilities that ensures they have safe and secure places to stop, rest and recuperate.

Transport Committee chair, Huw Merriman MP said: “We urge government to be brave and force the sector to get its house in order. A Supply Chain Levy has worked previously to incentivise reform.

“If the industry won’t deliver change, government should do so and send them the bill via increased taxes to those who produce and sell and make the most profits. This must be accompanied by minimum standards for planning, facilities and employers’ treatment of HGV drivers and seafarers. It’s the least we can ask for those who work so hard to deliver our goods to us.

“The long-term solution lies in moving more freight to rail and water. This will help decarbonise the sector and make it more attractive to drivers who want to operate over shorter distances; drivers who want to see their families at the end of a hard day rather than facing anti-social and dangerous nights sleeping in their cabs. In the near-term, we need better conditions to make moving essential goods a sound career choice.”

The Road Haulage Association said it broadly welcomed the report, but added that it is unreasonable for the logistics sector to fund such aspects as driver training alone due to the “significant upfront cost, the acute shortage of drivers and the difficulties in retaining new drivers due to external factors”.

Managing director Richard Smith said: “We welcome the recognition of the difficulties of life as an HGV driver. In many places, HGVs and their drivers are simply not welcome.

“This needs to change. We welcome measures that will improve HGV drivers’ experiences on the nation’s roads and the way they’re treated.”

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “We recognise the global challenges this critical sector faces and have taken an unprecedented 33 measures so far to address the HGV driver shortage.

“This includes making 11,000 training places available through our skills bootcamps so more people can launch careers as HGV drivers, boosting the number of HGV driver tests and investing in improvements to lorry parking and driver welfare facilities.

“Tackling global supply chain constraints remains a top priority for government and we’ll continue to support the road freight sector through our interventions.”

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