Driver shortages, IR35, and the RHA’s campaigning

Written by Rod McKenzie, RHA managing director of policy and public affairs 

A perfect storm is brewing in logistics; and it’s come out of a clear blue sky as lockdown lifts and our industry picks up pace. But with many firms reporting record business, how can this be trouble ahead?

First, the good news. Easter has been phenomenally busy for many. HGV traffic is up 7% compared with pre-pandemic numbers, and vans are up too, at 1% but with rapid signs of growth.

There are signs post-Brexit that some exporters have changed their business model to sell more in the UK with positive economic effects. But this is where the storm clouds appear: the driver shortage and IR35 tax changes which are causing headaches among those who usually hire drivers who are not on their books. Pallet firms are reporting three to five day delay on deliveries which would normally be next day.

The driver shortage was already critical, with many EU truckers heading home for obvious, Brexit-related reasons. This has been made worse by a complete failure to test new drivers during lockdown, leaving a backlog of thousands of tests – and potential drivers sidelined.

Then came IR35. Let’s be clear this was a tax loophole used by some as a blatant tax dodge. We are against bogus self-employment. The Government is right to close this loophole, and to point out that to be a self-employed driver you need to have your own truck and work to your schedule – not that of the boss of a firm.

The Treasury badly needs to pay some of those big lockdown bills, and they had already delayed the introduction by a year.

However, no-one likes a pay cut and anger from drivers has led some agencies and individuals to behave in an unscrupulous and likely illegal way. We all know the effect that anger has caused with walkouts and self-furloughing happening and exacerbating the driver shortage. Ultimately, we know this will all add to cost and our customers paying more.

But what is the RHA doing about the crisis in driver shortage?

Driving tests
We’re arguing for greater maximum priority for vocational drivers to clear the backlog.
That’s why the RHA’s Road to Logistics recruitment and training programme and programmes like KickStart are so important in getting new blood into the industry. Hundreds of would-be lorry drivers are rarin’ to go but the test delays means they can’t get their all-important HGV licenses.

Occupation Shortage List
We’ve told the Government that commercial vehicle drivers must be on the list, allowing EU and other foreign drivers to fill some rota gaps. We must acknowledge that there is a driver shortage in the EU, too.

Apprenticeships
We have paid £500m into the Levy and have got back just £50m – a very unfair payout for an industry with a critical staff and youth shortage…we need more funding to pay for the expensive lorry training.

Driver Facilities
We can’t expect people to want to join our industry if no toilets, wash facilities or safe and secure parking exists.Drivers hours relaxations won’t help because it doesn’t deal with the fundamental underlying problems. Making people work longer hours isn’t the solution.

The truth is simple: If our voice isn’t heard there will be uncontrolled supply chain disruption across many sectors that will impact many businesses ability to recover from the pandemic. That’s in no-ones interest, least of all the Government and that’s why we are calling on ministers to act now.