Grant Shapps will do ‘whatever it takes’ to fix lorry driver shortage

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said he would “move heaven and earth” to solve the nationwide shortage of truck drivers that threatens fuel supplies at some petrol stations, adding that motorists should not panic as the problem will be “smoothed out relatively quickly”.

Shapps said he would consider all options, including the possibility of issuing short-term skilled worker visas to tap mainland Europe’s pool of potential HGV drivers.

“I’ll look at everything,” he told Sky News. “I wouldn’t rule anything out. We will move heaven and earth to do whatever it takes to make sure shortages are alleviated with HGV drivers.”

Asked about the Petrol Retailers Association warning that drivers should keep a quarter of a tank of fuel in their car in case forecourts ran out, Shapps downplayed the issue and said motorists should “carry on as normal” and not panic buy.

“I’m not saying there is no issue,” he said. “There has been an issue. Although there are stresses and strains in the system, by and large it has not impacted on people’s everyday life when it comes to filling up with petrol. There is not a shortage of fuel at the refineries.”

Shapps blamed Covid-19, which he said delayed 40,000 drivers taking their HGV driving tests but added that the government had changed the law to speed up the “bottleneck”. More than twice as many driver tests are now available than pre-Covid, he said.

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Shapps said the driver shortage is not a new problem and that the UK has relied over a long period of time on “importing cheap European, often Eastern European, labour undercutting the domestic market”. He added that “we need to make this a more attractive industry”, welcoming salary and wage increases for HGV drivers.

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Asked about the role of Brexit in the driver crisis, he said that EU countries such as Poland and Germany have “very large and even larger” shortages.

“I’ve seen people point to Brexit as the culprit here, in fact, they are wrong,” he said. “Because of Brexit, I’ve been able to change the law and alter the way our driving tests are taken in a way I could not have done if we were still part of the EU. Brexit has actually provided part of the solution.”


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