Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Road Haulage Industry Lobby Groups Praise Latest Government Announcement of Support

Now to Watch and See What Actually Happens Over Training, Parking and Rail Freight
Shipping News Feature

UK – Plaudits from all corners of the freight community rained in after the government's latest proclamation concerning solving the heavy goods vehicle (HGV) driver shortage. A review is to be launched to examine ways of improving the compulsory ongoing training mandated for all existing and returning HGV drivers.

The announcement came with a triumphal note stating that the DVLA had ‘cleared’ over 40,000 HGV and vocational licence applications in just 4 weeks, non-medically complicated applications in just 5 days, which sounds much like a rubber stamping exercise inspired by the clamour and realisation over what the shortage actually means in terms of goods arriving on shelves, particularly with press hysteria about the prospects for Christmas.

The government describes this acceleration, and the increase in HGV tests by 90% and a new training scheme for up to 5,000 new drivers through skills boot camps, as ‘streamlining’, leaving many to ponder whether allowing drivers to drive an extra hour legally after decades of prosecuting them for doing so for a few extra minutes commands the same description.

The review of CPC requirements then is said to be the latest in thirty measures taken to support the road haulage industry and encourage more workers back to the profession. Industry cynics will say that some of those measures included a drastic watering down of safety standards and there is a hint of more of the same in the latest pronouncement.

Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (DCPC) training requires the driver to undergo 5 days of periodic training every 5 years to ensure they remain fully qualified to drive heavy goods vehicles and buses professionally, and are up to date and conversant with current road safety standards. This however is an EU initiative and, no matter how sensible it is the government feels the scheme can dissuade potential drivers from going ahead.

While its aim is to keep standards high, some drivers are left to pay for the training themselves and are not paid whilst attending their training course, and the government claims feedback from industry suggests this puts off many drivers who have left the profession from returning. The review is intended to reduce the burden on new and returning drivers and ensure they are not dissuaded by cost or other factors. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: 

”We’re listening to industry leaders who have told us about the issues HGV drivers face with CPC arrangements. Now we’ve taken back control of our own laws and regulations, I’m delighted to say we’re launching a review into these training rules. We understand it’s vital for drivers to remain fully qualified, but we’re looking to ensure they can do so in the most efficient way possible whilst maintaining road safety standards. No driver should be out of pocket or out of work through no fault of their own.

”This is the latest in a raft of thirty measures we’ve taken to support this vital sector and encourage drivers to return to the job or kick start a new career in the industry. These measures are working, there is no backlog of HGV licence applications and we’re seeing over a thousand more people than normal apply for a licence each week.”

Alongside the training review came announcements on improving the lot of drivers already on the road, and switching more freight where possible onto the rails. Parking for trucks has been a bête noir for the industry and local authorities for many years. Whilst we have heard much in the past from government about improving facilities, next to nothing has ever been achieved.

Alongside its latest assurance of a £32.5 million investment committed in the Chancellor’s budget to provide better facilities right across the country for HGV drivers, the government now says it is ‘working with key stakeholders to identify a number of lorry parks across the country where short-term facilities such as temporary toilets, showers and catering can be delivered in the coming months’. We wait with bated breath for the flesh on the bones of that one, where are they to be situated and who is actually paying for them?

As to that rail freight announcement, £500,000 is to be added to the existing Mode Shift Revenue Support Fund for 2021 to 2022. This £20 million grant scheme provides funding to private-sector freight companies to encourage them to move more freight from the country’s roads to either the railways or inland waterways. According to government projections this can remove a significant 29,000 lorry loads of goods off the roads up until the end of March 2022 and will help to generate more environmentally friendly modes of transporting freight.

The announcements received a warm reception from various industry bodies, with a statement from the Road Haulage Association saying:

“For months, the RHA has called for Government to act to reform Driver CPC if it wants to show a serious commitment to tackling the driver shortage and remove the barrier for experienced, qualified lorry drivers returning to the cab. We are delighted that Government has listened and heeded our advice by announcing a review into the qualification.

”The RHA has long campaigned for urgent reforms, including an extension to the validity of Driver CPCs expiring this year and help retain drivers who may otherwise be tempted to retire or find alternative work.The RHA also proposes a ‘one for one’ Driver CPC, meaning that a driver should be allowed to extend or renew a Driver CPC entitlement for one additional year if they undertake one Driver CPC training module.

”The RHA looks forward to engaging with the review to ensure these much-needed reforms are introduced, removing the barriers for drivers joining the industry, whilst maintaining safety standards. We also welcome the work on upgrading lorry park facilities which will be vital in improving driver wellbeing and encouraging more people to join the sector, and look forward to working with the Department for Transport on this.”

Another group which includes road transport in its portfolio is Logistics UK, formerly the Freight Transport Association, whose Director of Policy, Elizabeth De Jong said:

”The measures announced will support our members in their efforts to attract and retain new HGV drivers to the sector. Inadequate driver facilities across the roads network have led to a negative impression of our industry, creating a barrier to entry to our sector and are an issue that Logistics UK has been campaigning on for many years; we are pleased that the government has listened to our concerns and will move forward with a rapid programme of improvements.

”Logistics UK and its members also welcome the review of Driver CPC, to ensure that continuous education for drivers is as effective as possible while upholding all necessary safety requirements. Meanwhile, the extra funding for the Mode Shift Revenue Support scheme will help industry to reach net zero emission targets while reducing road congestion.”

Photo: Courtesy of Transport Scotland.