Delivering the goods! Can we solve the HGV driver shortage?

Published 21/03/2022   |   Reading Time minutes

The  HGV driver shortage, and related logistical issues, has made it difficult for Welsh businesses to move goods. This has led to empty supermarket shelves, fuel shortages and disruption to cross-border trade. But what led to what the industry has called the ‘driver shortage crisis’? And what needs to be done to address these issues?  

What caused the HGV drivers shortage?  

At the height of the crisis, there was an estimated shortage between 60,000 and 100,000 HGV drivers across the UK.

There’s been a shortage of drivers and logistics workers in the UK for many years. But the Road Haulage Association has said a number of factors combined to create a ‘perfect storm’, resulting in increased demand for drivers across the UK.

The logistics industry body, Logistics UK, said the combined effects of Brexit and the Covid pandemic “transformed this shortage into an acute crisis.” Many EU drivers have returned to work in their home countries and HGV driver tests were suspended during the pandemic because of social distancing.

An ageing workforce, lack of diversity and negative perceptions of working conditions have also contributed to driver shortages.

What have the UK and Welsh governments done?

The Welsh Government highlights that many levers to address the driver shortage are reserved, including driver licensing, road freight transport services and immigration.

The UK Government says it’s taken a range of actions including £32.5m for roadside facilities. But the Welsh Government is disappointed this is for England only.

Yet, several key levers that could address the issues are devolved. For example, highway / network management policy could address congestion. Also, land-use planning and building regulations could drive improvement in the number and standard of truck stops and warehouse facilities.

Skills and training are also areas where the Welsh Government can intervene. The Economy Minister Vaughan Gething, told the Economy Trade and Rural Affairs (ETRA) Committee in November 2021:

… what we are trying to do is look at how we can try to assist people to gain the training, to be able to go through and then achieve the licences to be able to address what is a shortage area in the economy.

Welsh Government transport policy

The Welsh Government published a Wales Freight Strategy in 2008. This identified several road freight issues reflecting those raised by the sector as causes of the shortage. These include skills shortages, congestion unsuitable rural roads, and the quality of driver facilities. The actions identified in the strategy are consistent with those needed to address current issues and concerns.

It's not clear how far the strategy was implemented. The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport’s (CILT) written evidence to the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee said that, unlike in England, Wales has no national inventory of lorry park facilities. Professor Andrew Potter of CILT told the Committee:

I think having a strategy helped to give a lot of focus to freight. I think it's given leverage to be able to do things, and it has given that awareness of what's there. Could it have done better? Well, I suppose with hindsight you can always judge that maybe there were different things that could have happened, but I think the fact that it existed and that at Welsh Government it still gets referred to shows that there is that awareness of freight.

On the same point, Sally Gilson from the Road Haulage Association said

I suppose that we wouldn't perhaps be having the discussion that we're having right now if it had been completely successful.

The 2008 freight strategy is due to be replaced. A new Wales Transport Strategy, published in March 2021, includes a ‘mini plan’ for freight and logistics. This commits the Welsh Government to working with the UK Government and the sector on “a Logistics and Freight Plan for Wales”. The mini plan also refers to a number of relevant issues, such as skills support, better integration of freight and logistics into developments, and to move freight from road to rail and water.

What did the Committee find?

The Committee published its report on the HGV drivers shortage in January. It made 11 recommendations for improvements needed to support the industry. The Welsh Government accepted them all. The recommendations ranged from reviewing drivers’ hours, the standard of drivers’ facilities and rest stops, and industry training and recruitment.

As part of its inquiry, the Committee heard from drivers about their experiences with poor facilities at rest stops and service stations. The Committee called on the Welsh Government to carry out an audit and create a national inventory of rest facilities for drivers. It also called on the government to update planning policy to ensure high quality driver facilities.

In its response to the Committee’s recommendations, the Welsh Government stated that many of these issues will be addressed through the new Logistics and Freight Plan for Wales, which will be published in 2024.

The Committee also called for industry improvements and for rest stop operators to introduce a voluntary standards system which “indicates to drivers the comfort level and security of rest stops”.  

What next?

Addressing the many complex issues that led to the HGV ‘driver shortage crisis’ needs action from the UK and Welsh governments, as well as industry.

According to Logistics UK, driver numbers seem to be stabilising with the number of driving tests increasing after the easing of Covid restrictions. But the Road Haulage Association warns the rise in global fuel prices could exacerbate problems faced by the sector further.

The Senedd will debate the ETRA Committee’s HGV divers shortage report on 23 March 2022. You can follow the debate on

Article by Rhun Davies and Andrew Minnis, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament