The government is to relax rules this month for how long lorry drivers can work, as a temporary fix for a severe shortage of qualified heavy goods vehicle (HGV) operators.
“We’re aware of a shortage of HGV drivers, so I’m announcing a temp extension of drivers’ hours rules from Mon. 12 July, giving flexibility to drivers & operators to make slightly longer journeys,” the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, wrote in a Twitter post.
“We’ve ramped up the number of driving tests available & will consider other measures.”
Baroness Vere of Norbiton - Minister for Roads, Buses and Places also echoed the announced on Twitter, adding "We're temporarily extending drivers' hours rules from Mon 12 July to allow HGV drivers to make slightly longer journeys where necessary, as we're aware of a current shortage of drivers.
"Driver safety must not be compromised & operators must notify DfT if this relaxation is used"
Premier Foods, one of Britain’s biggest food companies, last week called on the government to consider using the army to distribute goods.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which prompted many foreign workers to return home during lockdown, and new immigration controls after Brexit have led to staff shortages in logistics and other sectors such as construction and hospitality.
Industry leaders have said there could be gaps on supermarket shelves this summer and a collapse of supply chains.
But RHA chief executive Richard Burnett, who has held talks with various ministers in recent weeks to appeal for government aid, responded: "We oppose wholesale extensions to drivers' hours as we believe they can be counter-productive by making the job less attractive.
"Loading more hours on to drivers that are already exhausted is not the answer - the problem needs more than just a sticking plaster.
He continued "this is madness when the logistics industry has collectively and specifically advised against this.
"Loading more hours on to drivers that are already exhausted is not the answer, this will only push more to leave. It also risks road safety!"
A government spokesperson said it had "already taken action on HGV driver shortages, including ramping up vocational test capacity, and funding apprenticeships".
"Most of the solutions, however, are likely to be driven by industry, with progress already being made in testing and hiring, and a big push towards improving pay, working conditions and diversity," they added.