ARE WE HEADING FOR A CHRISTMAS OF CHAOS?
Nearly all of the food we eat, most of our clothes, and almost everything we use to build and furnish our homes is, at some point, moved by road transport. With over two million UK employees, road haulage is the UK’s fifth largest industry and contributes over £70 billion to the UK economy annually.
Haulage isn’t just about transportation of goods from A to B, its relationship to the success of British business is similar to the role of worker bees have in food production – critical. But like the threats facing bees, the sector is facing unprecedented challenges this Christmas.
It is now widely accepted that there is an increasing shortage of drivers that ranges from about 45,000–60,000 depending on your source. Drivers are retiring from the industry in high numbers, while the sector is also suffering from an inability to attract new talent as HGV licence applications have also dropped by more than 32,000 in the past five years.
The frustrating thing however is that for every driver the sector needs, there are actually three people in the UK with a valid LGV license who could do the work but two in three choose not to, so why is this?
The industry must take steps to improve its conditions so it can recruit and importantly retain the drivers it needs. The starting point has to be greater investment in recruitment, training and driver welfare following years of under-funding as well as roadside facilities for drivers which are currently scarce and inadequate, so must be improved.
Currently the industry is predominantly made up of over 45s, white and male. Until more is done in regards to the approach to driver training, the funding of license acquisition, and facilities for drivers, then it is unlikely the sector will be able to broaden its appeal.
Why does it matter so much? Quite simply without the haulage industry there is a very real likelihood of stores suffering from low levels of stock, with any lack of availability having a massive knock on effect on retailers, the construction industry or manufacturers all of whom rely on the sector to keep their businesses, and the UK’s economy, on track.
This Christmas is set to put a massive strain on depleted resources, yet is one that’s critically important to get right with a quarter of all personal spending taking place during the Christmas/holiday shopping season. This puts an inevitable strain on the already under staffed haulage industry.
There are however some positive changes in the mix. There are just over 400,000 heavy goods vehicles registered in Britain and although the number has remained fairly static for many years now, productivity of new vehicles has increased. The vehicles are also larger in terms of space they take up on our roads but also offer greater capacity.
There also continues to be a big increase in double-shifting – not of drivers but of vehicles. The newer vehicles are much more efficient and require less downtime. The sector is also embracing new technologies and is becoming an increasingly IT-driven industry allowing logistic businesses to use technology to plan, monitor and manage how a vehicle is best used.
It’s likely to be a challenging time this Christmas as businesses compete for the limited resources. Let’s hope however that with continued improvements to technologies, transport and training the sector is once again able to take on the challenges it will undoubtedly face this Christmas.