I’m sure you, like me, have been watching the news reports unfold of the impact of HGV driver shortages across the country with real concern. The HGV driver shortage has had a profound impact on so many elements of our national life; from supermarket stocks to petrol supplies and indeed, the Government have had ample warning from the haulage sector and businesses who operate across the country and still the Prime Minister has done nothing. The Government needs to take emergency action to get a grip on the HGV driver shortage that is causing chaos for families across the UK as we head into winter.
Whilst it is right to say that HGV driver shortages are an issue across Europe, the effects of this have been felt most acutely in the UK and this is no coincidence. Brexit and the deal negotiated by the Government have accentuated the issue with many drivers, having left the UK in the pandemic, finding themselves unable to return under the new immigration regime. The HGV driver shortage is a problem that has the potential to endure for months. Labour will hold the Government to account all the way.
It took the Government till the crisis was at its worst to finally set up an HGV driver training scheme and relax its immigration rules to let drivers return. Whilst we need more haulage drivers on our roads, we must continue to make sure that there are no careless changes to the training and testing of drivers that will put lives at risk. As Chair of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, I am aware of the risks that reducing training and testing criteria can have on road safety. It is shameful that the Government waited so long to act, and in acting, is increasing risks to road users.
The Government must look more broadly at the systemic causes of HGV driver shortages. Last month, I called on the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, to act on the filthy pollution that envelops our roads. This polluted air seeps into HGV drivers’ cabins, reducing life expectancy and causing serious health problems. Can we really be surprised that no one is signing up for the profession? We must pursue green policies that revitalise the HGV industry and attract new drivers. The Government must invest in electric, clean diesel, hybrid electric and hydrogen fuel cell HGVs to tackle the crisis. As part of current Government plans, there will be no new diesel or petrol HGVs sold after 2040. This target is not ambitious enough. To attract new HGV drivers, clean up the harmful levels of pollution on our roads and tackle the climate crisis, there must be a renewed commitment by Government help the HGV sector transition into the green economy and put the health and welfare of its drivers at the forefront.
If you would like to watch my question to the Transport Secretary last month, please click this link.