COVID-19 and LGV Driver Shortages

It is common to see lorry drivers queuing in the South East. However, the wait now starts even before the drivers obtain their licenses. The haulage sector is currently dealing with a shortage of thousands of drivers. Considering the fact that there are only 74 full-time examiners throughout the country, clients find themselves queuing up to take their test.

According to the Driver Require’s report, the expected dip in GDP as a result of the ongoing pandemic could lead to a 10% drop in the LGV driver employment numbers – about 30,000 drivers – in the coming few years. This can potentially help to counteract the supposed shortage of over 50,000 LGV drivers before COVID-19. However, there are still other factors involved that can further reduce the current LGV driver pool besides the lowered demand. There is also the possibility that the timing of those factors could compound and amplify the conditions.

Driver Require, in a past white-paper detailing the shortage of drivers, found that in order to maintain the current LGV driver pool level, the UK needs to maintain a flow of 40,000 new entrants (new LGV passes). However, thanks to the lockdown, there has been a reduction in the flow of new passes. Additionally, it seems that DVSA testing facilities won’t be able to operate at a level above 60% until a vaccine is released, which is expected not earlier than the end of Q1, 2021.

In the bulletin, Karen Smith states that because of the lockdown and the testing sites’ capacity limitations, they had lost more than 16,000 new passes so far. She also adds that they risk losing another 14,000 new passes should the training and test capacity proceeds at about 60% until a vaccine has been deployed successfully. This will bring the total to around 30,000.

Smith indicates that in the best-case scenario, the shortfall of LGV drivers in the UK could improve by about 10,000 drivers. However, this is under the assumption that foreign drivers will continue to work in the UK. But considering the wide range of factors that could potentially alienate them including Brexit, IR35, the newly introduced immigration laws, and worst of all COVID-19, this is an overly optimistic assumption. But she added that to fully avoid any easing of the shortage resulting from the COVID-19 recession, they only need a quarter of these foreign drivers to leave.

The combination of Winter Peak requirements and post lockdown backlogs is expected to cause a higher demand than the supply from now up to the end of the year. Smith then forecasts a dip in the demand for LGV drivers in the first half of 2021 as the effects of Brexit become more apparent and IR35 reforms are introduced to the private sector. Smith then predicts that the shortage of drivers could arise again in the second half of 2021 as the LGV market stabilises.

Driver Require is seeking the support of academics and industry experts to try and better understand the factors used to make their calculations in order to forecast the extent of the issue more accurately. But at the moment, it is difficult to see any significant improvement in the LGV driver shortage. In fact, it is predicted to worsen periodically in the course of the next 18 months not unless the Government effectively intervenes.