Throughout the pandemic, the logistics industry worked tirelessly to protect the supply chain. However, despite logistics workers being the unsung heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping shops, schools, hospitals and locked-down families supplied with all the goods and medicines the country needed, a new report into Road Freight Supply Chains published by the Transport Select Committee has, in the view of Logistics UK, unfairly placed the blame for issues faced by the sector at the industry’s door.
One of the main topics covered in the report is the overview of the sector’s recruitment problems, which Logistics UK considers confused and misleading. Like nearly every other industry in the UK, logistics is facing issues caused by a combination of factors, none of which are within its control. These include an ageing workforce, the loss of European workers after Brexit and the impact of the COVID-19 on testing of new HGV drivers.
Despite operating on incredibly narrow margins – often of less than 1% – industry has already made significant investment in the next generation of workers through the Apprenticeship Levy with £700m paid in by our industry to date.
However, due to a lack of appropriate qualifications for the sector, which did not even exist until 2021, only £150 million has been able to be drawn down thus far, representing a tax on our sector and a huge, missed opportunity for recruitment. Additionally, the greatest proportion of logistics jobs are level 2, which is low to middle-skilled (41.8%).
As a result, Logistics UK is urging the Department for Education to expand the terms of its National Skills Fund (NSF) – an initiative to help adults train into new careers – to include level 2 qualifications so more people can access training to become HGV drivers, warehouse operatives, mechanics or other vital roles which the logistics industry needs to fill desperately.
Furthermore, driver welfare also acts as a main barrier for recruitment and retention. In the view of Logistics UK, it isa national disgrace that thousands of HGV drivers, who have worked so tirelessly to protect the supply chain during the pandemic, are still unable to access suitable safe and secure truck stops across the country, with many forced to take their legally mandated rest breaks on the side of roads, something that we, as a business group, have campaigned on for many years.
It is not the industry’s responsibility to build and run these facilities, not least because they are commercial enterprises, many of which cater for all road users, not just the haulage sector. The real problem that has not been resolved is local authority planning rules and red tape that prevent these facilities being built in the first place. To suggest that these new builds, which are used by all road users, could be constructed as a result of a levy on hauliers would place an unfair, disproportionate burden on the industry.
To address the issues facing the sector, the logistics industry has already come together to create and fund a massive skills and recruitment campaign, aimed at young people, women and other under-represented groups, to attract new talent into the sector, which will launch shortly.
Moving forwards, it is vital that government works with industry to address these concerns. Northern Ireland is vital to UK industry and the wider economy. It is therefore crucial that we get a functioning NI Assembly up and running again to enable local decision making on skills funding priorities.
As part of a recent meeting between Logistics UK and its members, it was highlighted that proper driver facilities are only available on the M1 and M2 through private service stations.
On the A6, A1 and A5 there is a serious lack of proper safe parking for goods vehicles. Such facilities should be considered at the time of upgrading our strategic road network, not an afterthought when the road has already been built. Its only through local representation and a functioning government can we press for such infrastructure in the future.