Friday, October 15, 2021

UK Government Applies Yet Another Sticking Plaster to HGV Driver Shortage Problem

Not Cabotage but Sabotage Says Road Haulage Group
Shipping News Feature

UK – It seems the nature of modern politics that holding a consultation on any subject is actually merely a public relations exercise as the government response to the latest survey on the HGV driver crisis, set to end next week, has already been acted upon without waiting for the results.

The politicians have learnt yet another new word this week, cabotage, a familiar term to anyone already conversant with the mysteries of the supply chain. It seems the UK will suspend the practice which allows foreign drivers only two freight movements per week whilst in the country, and allow unlimited collections and deliveries in any two week period.

According to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps this will ease the driver shortage by freeing up foreign hauliers, but there will be raised eyebrows at the government’s hasty announcement of what is obviously a change that will happen regardless of any opinions made clear in the next few days.

The consultation, only launched yesterday and due to run for one week, proposes that foreign hauliers shall be allowed to undertake unlimited cabotage movements of heavy goods vehicles for up to 14 days after arriving on a laden international journey into the UK compared to the current rights of 2 cabotage journeys within 7 days of entry.

The only unsettled part of the proposal is apparently whether the change will last initially for 3 or 6 months from inception. Full details of the consultation including how to respond can be seen HERE.

It would be accurate to say the reaction from the road haulage community is so far less than favourable. Perishable Movements Ltd (PML), which deals principally with temperature sensitive goods says, while it welcomes the support of the European driver workforce, it does not believe that this plan would be in the best interests of the drivers concerned.

In a strong statement the company says that, once again, this would represent a total disregard for driver safety and welfare. It says drivers in the UK are regularly exposed to unsatisfactory, even inhumane, conditions with an abject failure to meet their basic needs to ensure they are able to perform their duties.

Lack of facilities compromises the safety of drivers, and therefore others at risk, and increasing the number of operations, EU drivers are able to perform in the UK, a country which, when compared with its European counterparts, has a very poor track record for the provision of services to encourage driver welfare and wellbeing, is a recipe for disaster.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) was also unequivocal in its condemnation of the latest announcement. It said in a statement that it was ‘shocked and disappointed by the Government proposal to allow foreign haulage companies to undertake unlimited work in the UK in two-week blocks’. It went on to point out that the companies and employees involved, being registered overseas, will pay no tax in the UK,

This, it says, means the whole of the haulage activity involved, tax, safety regulations, national insurance obligations etc. are all controlled outside the UK when cabotage is unfettered in the way proposed by government. Whilst it will help deal with the crisis in haulage availability, for supermarkets especially, it will undermine the work being done to provide long-term solutions to deal with problems of lorry driver availability, pay and conditions.

When a driver works for a UK company they will be continuously assessed, often via telematics. The operators are accountable to the traffic commissioners in the UK for the compliance with safety standards. Under cabotage by an outsider one has no effective control over compliance with safety standards.

The RHA has supported a range of measures, some have been taken up but key measures have not. Two that have not been taken up relate to temporarily adding non-UK drivers with valid qualifications to come to the UK and changes to Driver Certificates of Professional Competence administration that would retain UK drivers in work and allow retired or lapsed UK drivers to come back to driving for UK companies. RHA MD for policy and public affairs Rod McKenzie said:

“These two measures proposed by the RHA (and others) would make a difference to the availability of lorry drivers for UK companies, it is a shame that the UK government has chosen not to proceed in a timely way on these measures and instead decided to offshore UK haulage work to unaccountable operators from outside the UK. This [latest government] proposal undermines the good work done already on training, testing of drivers and the improved pay and conditions we have started to see for drivers."

Photo: Even the local shops don’t profit when a well provided for driver carries their own supplies.