In the summer and autumn, a shortage of HGV drivers was widely reported, sparking concerns about fuel, food deliveries and other supplies in the lead up to Christmas.
At the height of the crisis the Road Haulage Association estimated that the sector was short of 100,000 drivers, exacerbated by a backlog of tests for prospective drivers, EU drivers returning to Europe and drivers entering retirement. Since the DVSA reopened, it is believed that the shortage has now been reduced to approximately 80,000.
Businesses across Wales have been impacted. In Chambers Wales South East, South West and Mid’s recent Quarterly Economic Survey, 50% of SMEs in Wales stated that they had been impacted by supply chain issues caused by a lack of HGV drivers.
The survey shows that 85% of businesses are experiencing delays and 70% of businesses face increased costs receiving or sending goods. These results reflect those of a BDO survey of 500 businesses which suggested that two thirds of mid-sized firms are expecting supply chain strains, rising costs and pandemic related restrictions to hamper trade in the next month.
For many sectors, the HGV driver shortage is one of many challenges that they have faced in recent years. Other supply chain issues have included the global shipping crisis, energy costs and inflationary pressure on raw materials, while the Welsh Automotive Forum has indicated that a shortage of semiconductors in the automotive sector is making production schedules unpredictable.
One of the businesses that has been affected is Spectrum Technologies. The company manufactures a range of industrial laser systems used in the global aerospace and electronics industries, with over 95% of sales going to export markets. Their products contain a wide range of components sourced from around the world and from mid-autumn, they began to see strains developing in their supply chains.
Peter Dickinson, Managing Director of Spectrum Technologies, said: “The issues we experienced were firstly to do with the global shortage of semiconductors and this also impacted the supply of electronic PLC controllers. Since then, we have seen Covid related issues cause problems and delays across the supply chain, including with our local suppliers.
“Although we have not been directly affected by Brexit or driver related problems, we have seen air freight costs doubling and are looking into solutions to lessen issues for the end customer and reduce our carbon footprint.”
Paul Slevin, President of Chambers Wales South East, South West and Mid, said: “The HGV driver shortage is a small part of a larger problem and contributes to a triangulation of challenges businesses face on a day-to-day basis – skill set, tension in the supply chain and the cost of raw materials – so we need to look at the issue in a wider context.”
In the short-term, the UK Government has introduced measures to support the HGV sector, investing in training, infrastructure and improvements for facilities.
50% of businesses in the Chamber’s Quarterly Economic Survey support this, believing that governments should improve access to HGV driver training, licensing and longer-term commitments such as apprenticeships.
Paul continues: “Recruitment and how the sector presents itself will be important going forward as the current average age of the workforce is 56. HGV driving needs to be regarded as a well-respected career path with opportunities to progress, particularly if it is to attract younger workers and apprentices.”