Britain is suffering a shortage of lorry drivers which could cause wages to rocket and cost business millions as the problem deepens.
According to research carried out by Skills for Logistics, a support body for the freight sector, the UK currently has 310,000 LGV drivers, 12,000 fewer than it needs.
And the situation is set to deteriorate following the introduction of the EU Road Transport Directive on 23 March. This will curtail the time drivers can work from a current average of 62 hours a week to just 48. As a result, Skills for Logistics believes, the driver shortage could reach as high as 46,000 within just one year.
John Bowman, the director of policy at Skills for Logistics, said the industry was suffering from an ageing workforce and from its reputation as a "white, middle-aged occupation". He added: "There's a perception that we're an unloved and under-appreciated sector, and that's obviously having an effect. Changes to licences also mean it's becoming relatively more complex and more expensive to be a driver."
Currently, trained LGV drivers can expect to earn between £14,000 and £35,000 a year, although only those licensed to carry specialist loads, such as chemicals and fuel, will be paid in the higher bracket. On average, wages have gone up by around 10 per cent in recent years and Mr Bowman said the driver shortage meant they were likely to increase at a much higher rate in the future. "We have already started seeing settlements that show rising wages. It would be a logical trend and the general perception is that they will rise."
Skills for Logistics believes the shortage could also have serious implications for the British economy. It claims the lack of drivers could end up costing the UK more than £1bn a year because of delivery delays, and dent the country's ability to compete with mainland Europe. Retail is likely to be one of the worst-hit sectors, particularly in the later stages of the year when the festive shopping season gets under way.
Higher wages alone are not expected to lure enough drivers to address the shortage and Skills for Logistics believes the negative image of the sector needs to be addressed. "There's a perception that driving is a job and not a career," said Mr Bowman. "But you can enter as a driver and then progress to management supervisory roles within the sector."
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