Tackle road freight supply chain in two years or impose industry levy, warn MPs 

Industry must fix systemic shortcomings or risk Government action, says Committee

Radical surgery is needed to ensure the UK’s road freight supply chain and its workforce are more robust and resilient, warn MPs on the Transport Committee.

In Road freight supply chain, MPs urge Government to ‘level up’ the supply chain. The Committee urges Ministers to give the logistics sector two years to deliver sufficient drivers, workers and facilities, including high-quality services and welfare. 

Failure to do so should see the Government implement a Supply Chain Levy to assist in building facilities and training new drivers, conclude MPs. The Levy would require the parts of the supply chain where margins are greatest – such as large retailers, oil companies and online service giants – to deliver improved standards and resilience to the supply chain which they themselves require.

Such a mechanism must be accompanied by Government planning reforms, says the report. Government should recognise driver facilities as key national infrastructure assets, to be delivered through a planning framework at a central level as planning authorities at local government cannot be expected to deliver a national infrastructure solution. The findings of a current lorry parking survey should be used to set regional targets for building additional parking capacity for drivers, with a joint Government-industry taskforce to keep it on track. 

The fragile nature of the current road freight supply chain was brought into sharp focus by the covid-19 pandemic, exposing a fractured and fragmented industry which has failed to solve its own problems. The HGV sector, already facing challenges in recruitment and retention due to low pay and failure to invest in adequate driver facilities, found it difficult to compete with record job vacancies across many sectors in the UK economy.

To retain and value drivers in their daily work, the Government should set a minimum standard for driver facilities that ensures they have safe and secure places to stop, rest and recuperate. The report recommends that Government should lead the way by prioritising new leases with motorway service operators operating on Government-owned land. Just as recruits to the bus and coach sectors are funded by their sectors, it makes no sense that haulage drivers must pay for their own training.

The Chair of the Transport Committee, Huw Merriman MP said: “We urge Government to be brave and force the sector to get its house in order. A Supply Chain Levy has worked previously to incentivise reform. If the industry won’t deliver change, Government should do so and send them the bill via increased taxes to those who produce and sell and make the most profits. This must be accompanied by minimum standards for planning, facilities and employers’ treatment of HGV drivers and seafarers. It’s the least we can ask for those who work so hard to deliver our goods to us.

“The long-term solution lies in moving more freight to rail and water. This will help decarbonise the sector and make it more attractive to drivers who want to operate over shorter distances; drivers who want to see their families at the end of a hard day rather than facing anti-social and dangerous nights sleeping in their cabs. In the near-term, we need better conditions to make moving essential goods a sound career choice. 

“We’ve been here before. In 2016, the Transport Committee called for action in the haulage sector but little changed. Lack of diversity is holding expansion in the workforce back. Women make up as little as one per cent of the workforce. The proportion of under-25s is under three per cent. For too long, this lack of diversity has seen more drivers retiring than being recruited. 

“The pandemic turned a chronic problem of a lack of HGV drivers into an acute one. Yet again, the Government had to step in to shore up a private sector which failed to mend its fragile roof in sunnier times. The industry needs an expensive incentive to fix its problems rather than expect the Government, and taxpayer, to step in when we inevitably encounter the next crisis. The dire alternative is that drivers will go elsewhere and the essential goods we take for granted will be in short supply.”

Read the report here: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/22476/documents/165657/default/

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