Monday, September 27, 2021

Government Minister Alienates Road Haulage Lobby as He Blames It for Fuel Crisis

Driver Shortage is More Likely Driving Force Behind Queues for Fuel
Shipping News Feature

UK – Once again we are witnessing the government appearing to flounder as it tries to deal with the so called 'petrol crisis', a complete misnomer as, according to all industry sources, fuel is available in plentiful quantities.

The current situation which sees long queues of cars waiting for fuel, with many garages simply not having supplies, seems to be a distasteful mix of the current HGV driver shortage and over hyped reports in the press.

Last week Transport manager Grant Shapps, interviewed by Sky News, managed to make himself front runner for most inept politician, taking the title from Chris ‘Failing’ Grayling, when he appeared to blame the road transport sector for the problems, specifically the Road Haulage Association (RHA). He said:

“There was a meeting which took place about 10 days ago, a private meeting in which one of the haulage associations decided to leak the details to media, and that has created, as we have seen, quite a large degree of concern as people naturally react to those things.”

The accusation seemingly directly targeted Rod McKenzie, policy director of the RHA and the person who often liaises with the government and who, naturally, wasn’t too happy about being made the fall guy, particularly as he wasn’t even at the meeting which was between fuel industry representatives and the Cabinet Office. He commented:

“The allegation against me is nonsense, I was not in the meeting. I was not briefed about the meeting afterwards. I certainly didn’t brief any journalists about the meeting about which I knew nothing. It is entirely without foundation.”

One point made by Mr Shapps however is likely to prove accurate in that he stated there is in fact plenty of fuel available and the difficulty is in distribution. It seems likely that the usual bete noir of potential shortages has led many people to panic and fill their tanks to the brim thus upsetting the normal amounts of fuel required at each petrol station.

The government immediately announced the usual sticking plaster of ‘bringing in the army’. It is noticeable however that no numbers were given for the amount of troops either available, or sufficiently trained, to resolve the crisis. The second tranche of measures announced is however likely to be a more sensible response, although with more relevance to the overall problems than fuel shortages specifically.

After months of lobbying from all the industry groups concerned, the government is to allow EU drivers back into the country to help out, which presupposes of course that any wish to take up the offer, and to address the long term shortage with a variety of packages. Elizabeth de Jong, Policy Director at Logistics UK, said on hearing the news:

“The decision to grant 5,000 temporary HGV driver visas to help overcome the driver shortage crisis in the short term is a huge step forward in solving the disruption to supply chains we are seeing today. We are so pleased the government has listened to our calls and has made this bold decision to support the UK economy.

“We are also pleased that, in addition to increasing DVSA HGV testing capacity, the government has listened to Logistics UK’s request for additional training support by providing funded courses to enable more people to qualify as HGV drivers. This, alongside the current apprenticeship standard is fantastic news for recruiting more talent into industry.

“Logistics UK is also delighted that DfT have agreed to jointly send nearly 1 million letters to all drivers who currently hold an HGV driving licence, urging them to come back to the occupation. Conditions of employment and pay have been improving across the sector, and with fantastic opportunities available, now is the perfect time to consider returning to the industry.”

“We now look forward to working with government to address the longer-term causes of the HGV driver shortage, by helping industry to attract new British workers through measures such as the improvement of driver facilities.”

The hope that qualified personnel will fall over themselves to re-join a profession they have left may be a forlorn one however. Most of these will be retirees or disillusioned drivers who have moved into other professions, or staff who have been promoted in the industry and no longer have the need to venture out on the road. This however seems not to discourage Roads Minister, Baroness Vere who opined:

“This is the perfect time for anyone thinking about re-joining our vital road haulage industry to do so, with a notable and much deserved rise in salaries available for drivers. We’re taking a range of steps to help industry address the driver shortage, and we gladly join sector leaders in encouraging those who already hold an HGV licence to think about returning to a rewarding career as a professional driver.”