New ‘pingdemic’ threatens to make the HGV driver shortage worse

As Covid-19 restrictions are eased in England, the so-called ‘pingdemic’ could add to the HGV driver shortage crisis.

Josh Reynolds

Josh Reynolds | 19th July 2021 3:50 PM

The shortage of around 65,000 HGV drivers in the UK has been exacerbated by some 15,000 EU lorry drivers returning back to their home countries after Brexit, 30,000 HGV driver tests not being taken last year due to Covid-19 social distancing restrictions and a number of other factors.

With warnings of food shortages of food and other products on shelves in the coming weeks and months, a new problem has emerged with the easing of Covid restrictions on 19 July. It has meant a ‘pingdemic’ of people being told to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace app, including HGV drivers and other essential workers.

“Far from freedom day, it’s going to be disaster day,” said Rod McKenzie, our managing director of policy and public affairs, when he spoke to the Financial Times.

“Government needs to wake up to this. I cannot underplay how serious this situation is,” he said, explaining that the supply chain could face ‘chaos’, with already scarce HGV drivers being taken off the road by the need to self-isolate.

In order to prevent further disruption to the UK’s supply chains, we have called for fully vaccinated logistics staff to be allowed to continue working, so long as they produce negative lateral flow test results.

Our policy director for Scotland and Northern Ireland, Martin Reid has urged Nicola Sturgeon to replace self-isolation measures with lateral flow testing as a ‘low-risk option’ to keep trucks on the road in Scotland. Read the letter here.

Similarly, we have also written a letter to Roads Minister Baroness Vere that healthy truckers self-isolating creates a huge strain on an already stretched workforce as the driver shortage crisis tops 100,000.

“As with the proposals being considered for NHS staff, we ask that instead of isolating fully-vaccinated logistics employees’, they have daily lateral flow testing’” continued Rod McKenzie.

“As long as tests remain negative, they should be allowed to work. In the case of a positive test, normal protocols would of course be observed.”

Commercial vehicle drivers spend the greatest proportion of their day alone in their cabs, and only 0.02 per cent test positive for Covid according to DfT.

In addition to calling for officials to rethink how self-isolation works for commercial vehicle drivers, we have also presented the Government with a 12 point action plan, as we urged them to take action to tackle the driver shortage.

The actions listed in the plan include resolving the problems with the apprenticeship system for HGV drivers, adding HGV drivers on Government’s Skilled Worker Shortage Occupation List as a short-term measure, and improving site productivity and the treatment of drivers at collection and delivery points, among other actions.

While we’re pleased that ministers have agreed to increase the funding limit for Large Goods Vehicles apprenticeships, there’s still a lot more that the Government must do.