Just 127 foreign lorry drivers have been granted temporary visas to start work in the UK, the prime minister has revealed, amid fears supply chain issues could continue until the end of the year.
Figures suggest the UK government may struggle to reach its goal of bringing in 5,000 qualified tanker drivers to alleviate the chronic shortage. Some 300 visas for drivers are on offer immediately, while an extra 4,700 haulage driver visas will be available later this month. They will last until March.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson dismissed the notion Brexit is to blame and said countries around the world, including China, have been hit by shortages of HGV drivers as economies wake up following lockdowns.
He said only 127 names of drivers had been put forward by industry bosses for the three-month visa scheme so far, less than half of the 300 initially on offer.
“It’s a fascinating illustration of the problems of the shortage,” Mr Johnson told BBC Breakfast.
“What we said to the road haulage industry was ‘fine, give us the names of the drivers that you want to bring in and we will sort out the visas, you’ve got another 5,000 visas’.
“They only produced 127 names so far. What that shows is the global shortage.”
He added: “There are obviously issues that we have to address. There have been shortages in lorry drivers around the world, there are shortages of lorry drivers in China at the moment because the world economy is growing again and taking off again.”
A shortage of HGV drivers sparked panic-buying among British motorists in September after a leaked document showed BP had told ministers of looming supply chain issues. The firm later announced it was closing some stations and rationing fuel deliveries due to a lack of drivers, sending people rushing to the pumps.
Army personnel were deployed on Monday to drive fuel tankers to forecourts, but some critics argued the emergency plan should have been implemented sooner.
Asked if the shortage of people behind the wheels of lorries could affect Britons doing their Christmas shopping, the prime minister said the festive season would be “considerably better than last year”.
He said one of the reasons the UK has a low number of people willing to work as HGV drivers is due to a lack of investment in the profession over the past decade. He said the government was determined to address problems by investing in better facilities for people facing long journeys on the road.
He also touched on the rising costs of energy that have left many Britons fearing they will have to choose between heating and eating this winter.
Mr Johnson said the UK government is looking at ways to reduce its reliance on energy from overseas and invest in domestically-produced green energy. He said this would have a direct effect on people’s standard of living as energy accounts for a “big chunk of people’s bills”.
“In the end, we’ve got to move to a system where we’re not depended on the vagaries of Russian hydrocarbons but where we have our own clean, green energy sources,” he said. “And that’s what we’re doing, we’re investing massively in clean energy that will be cheap, it will be reliable and, as I say, we won’t be dependent on hydrocarbons from abroad.”
“What’s happening now is that the price of gas is going up because it’s being sucked in by China, by Malaysia and that’s what’s affecting the price here in this country. The way to fix that is to make sure that we invest in cheap, green, clean energy in this country on which people can rely. That’s what we’re doing. We’re getting up to 40 gigawatts of wind power alone by 2030. That’s a fantastic thing for this country.”
Green energy and other eco-friendly initiatives are some of the topics being discussed by politicians this week at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.