HGV drivers offered ‘pots of gold’ to work in the West Midlands

75% less applicants for West Midlands lorry driver jobs than a year ago

The UK is said to be 100,000 lorry drivers short due to Brexit and Covid (pic: Gareth Fuller/PA)

Haulage bosses and HGV drivers in the West Midlands have identified the true scale of the shortage of operators and the effects on our day-to-day lives.

One haulage logistics company director says he has seen a 75% drop in the number of applications for jobs locally - with some agencies offering drivers ‘pots of gold’ to fulfil contracts.

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Darren Paine, director of Hilltop Transport, believes that tax changes are the main reason for the crisis and that everyday people will foot the bill as the price of goods will go up.

5 key points about the HGV driver shortage

  • The UK currently has a shortage of over 100,000 drivers, slowing down the delivery of essentials such as food and petrol.
  • Around 25,000 HGV drivers who were EU nationals left the UK in 2020.
  • Coronavirus, Brexit and tax changes have all been identified as contributory factors in the crisis
  • The Military is helping to deliver fuel supplies, especially in the South East where supplies have been worst affected
  • There are fears that Christmas food and drink supplies may be adversely affected

How are tax changes to blame?

A tax change, also known as a ‘IR35’ was first implemented in April this year.

The new rules state that haulage agencies that turnover more than £10m per annum, or have in excess of 50 employees, are no longer able to hire drivers who are working as a limited company.

HM Revenue and Customs argue this change will make tax evasion more difficult as drivers now need to be employed on a pay as you earn (PAYE) basis.

But critics argue many lorry drivers are engaged in a freelance capacity and changes to the IR35 rules have resulted in agency labour withdrawing their services.

Mr Paine said: “The self employed tax regulations were another hammer blow in terms of driver availability. Everyone is fighting for the same sample of drivers.

“Even though we don’t tend to use a lot of agency drivers, a lot of people who were fully employed were getting offered pots of gold by the agencies.

“So to keep older drivers and to attract drivers, we’ve had to put our rates up a couple of times this year to try and try and keep hold of our drivers and look after them.”

Mr Paine said: “The lack of drivers means the costs will now go onto my customers. That means prices of goods will go up. I’d say if I had a job as a driver, we would have 75% less candidates applying than we would a year ago. That is really worrying.”

Alex Footman gave up his job recruiting HGV drivers to become one after he saw how much he could earn.

What is it really like to work as an HGV driver in the West Midlands?

Alex Footman gave up his job recruiting HGV drivers to become one after he saw how much he could earn.

He said: “If ever you were tempted to have a go at being a driver, now is definitely the time because there is such a shortage of class one HGV qualified people in the country at the minute.

“A lot of the Eastern European drivers that were here and working in the UK left due to Brexit and the fact their jobs weren’t classed as ‘skilled workers’ so they were not permitted working visas to stay.”

He added: “Given the situation now I reckon the government might want to change their mind on that.”

Is enough being done to promote HGV driving as a career?

Gary Fox, 47, training and quality manager at Clarke Transport, in Tipton, says that for every one HGV job there are up to seven to eight vacancies.

The key problem, he says, is the lack of advertisement in education in local schools.

The current HGV workforce has an average age of 57.

He said: “The main thing is that our industry is not promoted at all at school level. Training is too expensive, and school or college students are unaware that they could earn between £30k and £50k within a short space of time. There’s no industry knowledge being spread.”

Mr Fox is also critical of university and its role in diminishing the aspirations of those who may not fit into academic education.

“It’s always ‘go to university’; ‘go sixth form’; ‘do higher education’. Whereas they can go there, and end up £60,000 in debt doing criminology because they’ve seen CSI. Is that fair to say?

Or they could come into a company like this, learn the ropes from grassroots levels – learn how to be forklift driver, get their car licence, drive vans, and so on. Within two years, you could be earning up to £50,000.

“I have schoolkids told because they do not like school, or find it difficult, that they are ‘stupid’ and ‘thick’. That is simply not true. Their talents lie elsewhere, and we can help with that.

“We’ve got vehicles with double beds, microwaves, fridge freezers. It’s a better office than what we have got,” he added.

West Midlands leaders call on the government to address HGV driver shortage

Corin Crane, CEO of the Black Country of Chamber of Commerce said: “Working with businesses and other regional support agencies, the Black Country Chamber of Commerce has called on the government to implement a range of immediate, practical solutions to address these and other issues facing businesses today.”

Cllr Rajbir Singh, leader of Sandwell Council, said: “This is a national problem that national government needs to address urgently. It is affecting all parts of the country including Sandwell and strong action needs to be taken as soon as possible.

“We will continue to listen to local businesses, industry and their representatives to assist where we can with local solutions and initiatives where appropriate.”

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