Driver Shortages?

On the 10th September 2014 the UK awoke to sunshine, rolling green hills and tweeting birds; a world in which all commercial drivers were now fully trained and professionalised.  A new dawn where drivers are fully conversant with effective fuel utilisation and transport sustainability; fully compliant with all drivers hour, working time and tachograph legislation.  The theory and reality will never be quite so utopian, but the Driver CPC has to be seen as a brilliant opportunity to improve standards overall.

For the uninitiated, all commercial drivers needed to have undertaken 35 hours of professionally accredited training by the September deadline in order to get a Digital Qualification Card (DQC).  In turn it is a legal requirement to have the card when driving, or face enforcement action both personally and against the vehicle operator in question.  Drivers must then undertake continuing professional development of a further 35 hours prior to the next deadline in 5 years. The requirements have clearly been fantastic for training providers, whilst offering a ROI to operators.  In theory this will translate to tangible benefits in terms of improvement in quality of drivers’ work, fuel usage and incident reductions.

There had been concerns that the new regulations would exacerbate a driver shortage perceived wisdom suggested was already chronic.  It was claimed that the additional requirements would lead to a driver shortage so severe that the supermarket’s shelves would be empty. Presumably this oft quoted threat would mean consumers would have to eat the leftover Fray Bentos pies, baked beans and canned soup rather than having to revert to living off the land, but still, somewhat undesirable.  As an aside, it never fails to amaze, the sheer volume of inflammatory scenarios that are likely to result in supermarket shelves being empty these days.

So is there actually a driver shortage?  The DVSA report that 664,000 drivers had completed their 35 hours of mandatory training prior to the 9th September deadline.  In addition to that of course there are an, as yet, unknown number of workers that are compliant with the Driver CPC regulations through gaining the qualification in other EU member states.  They are of course, much to the irritation of Nigel Farage, free to work in the UK at any time.  This would suggest, if the right rate can be paid commercially, there is a big pool of drivers to select from, if you are looking in the right places.

To further confuse the picture, in 2013, according to the FTA’s annual logistics report, there were 255,000 HGV drivers in employment in the UK, set against a number of licenced HGVs, 378,775 and 220,283 HGV trailer tests.  Given that the number of licenced vehicles doesn’t mean the actual number of vehicles, and the trend towards 24/7 operating, whether there is sufficient drivers will never be a simple ratio.

To further complicate the hazy picture, the number of HGVs and licenced drivers has dropped considerably since 2007.  2013’s stats have just been announced and the number of vehicles increased by 1.8% on the year; this, however is still 8% lower than in 2007.  To compound this, the overall reduction of industry resources, and economic growth, has seen increased volumes of freight to be transported.  It is always quite difficult to find up to date figures on volumes of freight being moved on UK roads; however the last published show a marked increase (2013).

Effectively the size of the ‘UK fleet’ has fallen significantly, there appear to be fewer UK based drivers than in the past, and freight volumes are rising in line with wider economic growth.  So although supermarket shelves are still full, the industry has a challenge to satisfy demand whilst managing the transformation to a professionally managed pool of drivers, and an increasing fleet size.

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