Sheffield MP warns of winter of price rises and empty shelves unless lorry driver crisis is fixed

Consumers could be in for a winter of price increases, less choice and empty shelves unless government drops its ‘Brexit ideology’ to fix a lorry driver crisis, a Sheffield MP has warned.

Monday, 6th September 2021, 1:08 pm

Paul Blomfield urged ministers to use ‘common sense’ and issue temporary visas for drivers to ‘weather the Brexit and Covid-19 storm’.

He spoke out following an extraordinary meeting of the UK Trade and Business Commission which heard evidence from food producers, retails and hauliers - who were unanimous in calling for temporary visas.

The UK has a shortage of more than 100,000 drivers, according to the Road Haulage Association. During the pandemic many Europeans went home and did not return. There have also been tax changes making it more expensive for foreign drivers to work in the UK. And cross-border trade has fallen due to new taxes and red-tape, with lorries tied up at ports for long periods.

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The UK has a shortage of more than 100,000 drivers, according to the Road Haulage Association. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Yesterday IKEA, which has a large store in Sheffield, said it was struggling to supply 10 per cent of stock due to a shortage of HGV drivers that was down to Covid and Brexit.

Paul Blomfield, MP for Sheffield Central and member of the UK Trade and Business Commission, warned Britain’s supply crisis will continue for months and cause potential price rises for consumers.

He added: “The witnesses painted a pretty stark picture for the months ahead unless the Government acts quickly. They made it quite clear that red tape and labour shortages from Brexit have exacerbated problems that are being acutely felt across production, processing, manufacturing, retail and, of course, logistics.

“Ministers should stop Brexit ideology from getting in the way of common sense.

Sheffield MP Paul Blomfield. Picture Tony Johnson.

“In the longer-term, companies must improve wages and conditions to attract more recruits. But we need more lorry drivers now, and so the Government should issue temporary visas to attract back the European drivers we have lost and combat the potential for a winter of empty shelves and less choice for consumers.”

At the meeting, experts cast doubt on a short-term Government strategy to plug holes in the availability of HGV drivers, stating that British applicants numbers were low despite an intense recruitment drive, better wages and improved benefits.

Andrew Opie, of the British Retail Consortium, said the Government faced a choice of allowing overseas food producers to work here or risk “offshoring” parts of Britain's food production industry to Europe.

A Government spokeswoman said they wanted UK employers to stop relying on labour from abroad.

She added: “We are closely monitoring labour supply and working with sector leaders to understand how we can best ease particular pinch points. Similar challenges are being faced by other countries around the world.

“We want to see employers make long term investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad. Our Plan for Jobs is helping people across the country retrain, build new skills and get back into work.

“The Government encourages all sectors to make employment more attractive to UK domestic workers through offering training, careers options wage increases and investment.”

Bosses’ business lobby group the CBI has warned the crisis could take up to two years to resolve, damaging the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Chief executive Tony Danker said: ”In the UK, many overseas workers left during the pandemic, affecting sectors including hospitality, logistics and food processing, and new immigration rules make replacing those who left more complex.”

But the GMB union has said bosses need to sort out poor pay and conditions.

Andy Prendergast, GMB national secretary, said: “Relaxing immigration rules for HGV drivers is a quick fix: it won’t work in the long term.

“Bosses must deal with the underlying issues - the poor pay and conditions many drivers experience on a daily basis.”

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Thank you. Nancy Fielder, editor.