Thursday, April 14, 2022

Funding Available to Upgrade HGV Services - But Is It In The Right Place?

Government Stumps Up Twenty Million for Food and Showers
Shipping News Feature

UK – Any heavy goods vehicle (HGV) driver trapped in his or her cab today would have choked on their bacon sandwich hearing a government spokesman say on BBC radio that they were 'better off than car drivers' parked on the side of a motorway, sometimes for 20 hours or more.

This presumed superiority is probably owed to the fact that many truck drivers come prepared for the appalling prospects they may face, particularly if engaged in international haulage, when a spare toilet roll and a camping stove become essentials in an environment often short of the most basic of facilities.

At least now however the inhumanity of working in an environment where there are not even basic personal facilities available, let alone hot food, showers etc. seems to have been recognised in some degree as the government announces £20 million allocated to improve security, lighting and shower rooms at roadside services for HGV drivers.

Not that this is exactly new money. It is part of the National Highways’ existing £169 million Users and Communities Fund, and will go specifically towards improving security, food and personal facilities as well as exploring increasing parking spaces for lorry drivers. It is roadside service operators which are being encouraged to apply for the multimillion-pound fund immediately. Roads Minister Baroness Vere said:

”HGV drivers play a key role in keeping our nation running and contributing to the economy, and it is vital they feel safe and comfortable wherever they stop. That’s why we’re allocating £20 million to ramp up security and improve amenities for drivers, building on the raft of measures we’ve already taken to support the industry. We’ll continue to work closely with the sector to boost professional driver numbers even further.”

The government says it means it has now taken 33 actions to support the sector and address a shortage of HGV drivers affecting countries around the world, taking the funding total investment in driver facilities to £52.5 million since last year. £32.5 million was previously committed in the Chancellor’s budget to provide better facilities right across the country for HGV drivers, to drive up standards and further safeguard driver comfort and safety.

The only thing now is when and where this help will apply. This at a time when, in addition to a shortage of UK based drivers willing to travel abroad, many foreign companies are pulling out of the market citing post Brexit delays which they say makes trade with the UK unviable.

Reactions to the latest announcement met with a mixed reception from the trade. The Road Haulage Association (RHA), which deals exclusively with this sector gave a somewhat muted reaction, unsurprising given this government’s record on delivering promises. Tom Cornwell, RHA lead for Infrastructure and Operator Licencing welcomed the move but said more needs to be done to increase parking provision and improve facilities.

“This is encouraging news for our drivers who often tell us about poor facilities on the road but there’s a long way to go. We believe we need an extra 11,000 safe and secure parking spaces and we’re determined to tackle that shortfall by working with government, industry and officials.”

The announcement comes after the Association launched its RHA Facilities Campaign to press for better facilities for commercial vehicle drivers and it is urging all in the profession to sign its petition calling on the Government to help improve driver facilities.

Logistics UK, which recently published a Skills Report showing what it calls ‘significant steps’ which have been taken by both government and industry to help address recruitment issues that have plagued the sector for years, was a little more positive, with Mags Simpson, Logistics UK’s Head of Policy Engagement, saying:

”The announcement of an additional £20 million to boost HGV driver facilities is a positive step forward for industry, and Logistics UK is now calling on roadside service operators to urgently apply for funding. Logistics UK members have previously cited the lack of available lorry parking and suitable roadside facilities as one of the main barriers to recruitment and as a result, an increase in funding for this vital sector of the economy is much welcomed news. Lorry drivers are required by law to take regular rest periods, including overnight mandated rest breaks.

”It is vital that these key workers, who are charged with keeping the nation stocked with all its required goods, have a safe place to take these breaks, where they are also able to make use of much needed bathroom and catering facilities.”

One of the main suppliers of motorway services is Moto which said it had already invested £12.5 million in upgrading facilities, said it would be applying for funding under the latest scheme with Ken McMeikan, CEO of Moto hospitality commenting:

”This announcement is a welcome boost for the UK’s hardworking HGV drivers and the sector. It is encouraging to see that the input provided by Moto and other industry figures have been acknowledged and acted upon by the Department for Transport. We look forward to making an application to this £20 million fund, which would allow us to accelerate our plans for enhanced security and increase the physical number of showers we can offer.”

One must consider however if this is where the problem truly lies. Motorway facilities are already present on the main routes, and they doubtless provide a tidy income for the operators, with premium rates for fuel and the variety of brand name refreshment suppliers. All well and good but of little comfort to the driver parked on the hard shoulder of the M20, as instructed by police with no access to sustenance or personal facilities.