The chief executive of leading logistics company Pallet-Track has called for a moratorium on the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (DCPC) to encourage experienced HGV drivers who have left the industry to get back behind the wheel.
Caroline Green said: “The government has committed to write to a million HGV license holders to thank them for their vital service as well as to encourage as many lapsed drivers as possible to return to the sector and announced 4,000 people will be trained and tested at bootcamps to help address the driver shortfall.
“We had a driver shortage crisis before Brexit and Covid and last year saw 30,000 HGV driving tests cancelled on top of 14,000 drivers who’ve returned to the EU. The average age of an HGV driver is 55 and 10,000 drivers retire each year as well as 20,000 others who are quitting sector for various reasons.”
Caroline said the government had acted too slowly to address the driver shortages ahead of peak Christmas trading, but Easter could be a realistic target if it listened to the industry and acted now.
She also said the government believes it has demonstrated increased sovereignty over decision-making, by overriding EU protocols to extend drivers’ hours and merge Class 1 and 2 driver training programmes.
“It is positive that the government has announced 4,000 additional training and testing opportunities but with the lead times we’re seeing at the DVLA to return licences combined with training and testing capacity, that initiative cannot bear fruit before next year,” added Caroline.
“There are safety question marks over the government’s approach here, but a moratorium on the EU’s Driver CPC directive would be a safe and quick-fire route to get our experienced, but lapsed, drivers back behind the wheel. It was an EU regulation that was responsible for an exodus of drivers in the first place when it was introduced in 2009.
“Given that we can’t rapidly get new drivers on the road, a moratorium would give the government time to consult with the industry on formulating training that will command the respect of both drivers and management, unlike the current arrangement.”
Caroline said current CPC training was widely believed to add little value and to add nothing towards demonstrating competency.
She said another change to the process should involve a government subsidy for HGV medicals for retired drivers who are prepared to come back into the profession, as well as other changes to encourage younger drivers into the industry.
She said: “Given NHS constraints, the private sector could be involved, with the government repaying the £150 per test fee through some form of voucher scheme.
“Also, now we are out of the EU, we could go back to allowing car licence holders to drive up to 7.5 tonnes as we did prior to 1997. This will encourage younger drivers into the industry; will hopefully see them progress to C and C+E and will reduce the number of vans on our roads – and the associated CO2 emissions.
“The ability to go from car to C+E Class 1 and miss out the Class 2 test may help but that is longer term.
“Ultimately, there are no silver bullet solutions and we are going to require long-term initiatives from both the industry and government to address the issue.”
Summing up, Caroline said the changes made all need to contribute to making the industry a more attractive career option at all levels.
“As an industry, we need to make the sector more attractive. Yes, that definitely includes pay but also driver facilities and conditions, as well as public perception.” she said.
“Drivers tell us that they are treated badly when they arrive at large distribution centres. They are kept waiting for hours and are treated like third-class citizens. In addition, motorway truck facilities are dire, expensive and too few in number. The government has said it will reinvigorate work on lorry parks and this needs to happen as a matter of urgency”