It is easier for ballerinas to come to the UK to work than it is for lorry drivers, despite the shortage of truckers, MPs have been told.
Martin Reid of the Road Haulage Association (RHA) said the UK was already short of up to 60,000 drivers prior to Brexit.
But he added that leaving the European Union, combined with the impact of the coronavirus crisis and other factors, had created “the perfect storm” for the sector.
He spoke out on the issue to MPs on Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee as they examined the impact of labour shortages in certain industries.
To try to tackle the problem, the UK Government has brought in a temporary visa scheme, aimed at making it easier for foreign lorry drivers to work in the UK in the three months up to December 24.
But Mr Reid, the RHA director for Scotland and Northern Ireland, complained that that was “too short a period to attract people”.
He stated: “Coming over for a two or three-month period is not an attractive position for drivers coming in.”
Driving an HGV is not classed as a skilled occupation, he told the committee, adding that it is not on the shortage occupation list – which makes it easier for firms to bring in workers from overseas.
“It is easier for a ballerina to come to the UK than it is an HGV driver,” he told the MPs.
Mr Reid continued: “‘HGV driver’ is not seen as a skilled occupation. Now, anybody who knows anything about that will know it is a skilled occupation.
“But because it is seen as Level 2 it cannot take its place on the shortage occupation list, which in turn means that there is lower levels of funding available in order to bring people into the industry, so there is a whole knock-on effect.”
Mr Reid stated that the shortage of HGV drivers was “nothing new”, saying that problems “existed before Brexit”.
But he added: “Unfortunately the factors that have come in the past couple of years have exacerbated an already existing problems.
“We had the situation where we had a number of European operatives that came freely and working within the country who are no longer able to.”
In addition to this the coronavirus lockdown meant a reduced number of tests being carried out by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA)
“We have an aging workforce and we rely on those new tests to happen because of the churn that happens,” Mr Reid said.
With the average age of an HGV driver between 50 and 53 years old, he told how new recruits were needed each year to take the place of drivers retiring and leaving the profession because of ill health.
Normally some 75,000 tests a year are carried out, he told the MPs, with a pass rate of 58% meaning about 35,000 to 40,000 new drivers coming into the industry.
Mr Reid said: “That amount of tests didn’t happen over the last year because of lockdown, so we’re basically looking at instead of 30,000 to 40,000 coming in to compensate for the leavers who are retiring or finishing because of ill health, then we’re 20,00 to 30,000 short just because of that.
“And when we started off at the base position of 50,000 to 60,000 short before Brexit then you can see where the problems lie.”
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