By Press Release Sep 7, 2021

Who’d be a lorry driver these days?

The sight of Christmas stock in supermarkets during September is guaranteed to make me scowl – why can’t they wait until after Bonfire Night?

Christmas 2020 got cancelled at the eleventh hour, so this year I’m hoping to make up for it. With 16 weeks still to go, there’s no need to panic – what could you possibly need to buy that isn’t available every week? I can only think of Christmas crackers, and the turkey, and – if we didn’t eat those dry old birds – we’d find something tastier.

With already a shortfall of 100,000 lorry drivers, supermarkets claim the driver shortage is getting even worse. I’ve seen HGV jobs advertised at up to £40 per hour by supermarket contractors; while on the M3, I’ve spotted supermarket trailers being pulled by tractor cabs belonging to independent haulage companies – it must be costing them a fortune. Britain’s major retailers make the most of their annual profit in the last three months of the year, so no wonder they’re anxious about Christmas! Waitrose already pay drivers £54,000 a year, while bosses from Morrison and Tesco plead for the return of EU nationals, ‘just temporarily, until we can train more here.’ Naturally they blame Brexit. Factually, it’s the supermarkets who could and should have been training more people to drive lorries, but for years preferred employing EU truckers. For profit-hungry supermarkets, that was the cheap option, and now their soon-to-be-undelivered chickens have come home to roost.

As I’ve previously explained, successive governments have turned lorry driver training into a bureaucratic muddle. First, you need to pass a difficult theory test, then you start on a smaller rigid lorry before moving on to an articulated truck. Once you’ve spent a small fortune clearing those hurdles, they make you do a ‘driver CPC’ – basically classroom sessions, guaranteed to bore you for hours, about a job you’re already doing, repeated every 5 years.

I still have my HGV licence, obtained in 1982, just five days after my 21st birthday. We did five days of training, a two and a half hour test and, despite my youth, the perceptive examiner Mr. Forty decided I was competent and passed me. With that precious piece of paper safely tucked in my pocket, I was off, driving juggernauts all over Britain and eventually Europe. It’s so typical of politicians to meddle with something that didn’t need fixing. And remember the generation before mine didn’t even have to pass driving tests at all; they were shown how to drive by old hands.

Nowadays, no-one in their right mind would let you loose on a lorry made in the 1960s; they were often overloaded death traps with abysmal brakes. In comparison, modern automatic trucks are virtually foolproof. My Grandad was a London bus driver. I have pictures of him looking very smart on Coronation Day. Professional drivers then were highly respected and, when Guinness opened a London brewery, they poached him as a tanker driver; it was a desirable pensionable job.

Every lorry you see today needs the equivalent of an MOT inspection every 6 weeks. Yes, you read that right: by law, a safety inspection every six weeks. Drivers’ hours are strictly regulated using in-cab digital tachographs, downloadable remotely by enforcement agencies. Most lorries have cameras facing forwards and backwards, and another permanently aimed at the driver. Congestion is a daily struggle, and lorries are satellite tracked – the boss always knows where you are! No wonder they’re having recruitment difficulties.
Perhaps the supermarkets are right after all – get panic-buying for Christmas!