Mon. Oct 18th, 2021

Isle of Wight Observer News

The Island's Free Newspaper

Holmsey – Where are all the lorry drivers?

3 min read

The transport industry is desperately short of 100,000 lorry drivers and, within weeks, this could lead to nationwide food shortages. OK; stay calm; don’t hit the panic button just yet because, apparently, the first thing the supermarkets will be short of is blueberries, which are almost ripe and ready to pick.

I’ve only ever eaten blueberries in the USA, and jolly nice they were too. We’ve become used to an abundance of everything in the shops. However exotic our taste, anything grown on the planet is available locally and unseasonably. For decades we’ve not produced enough food here; we became reliant on imports. Years of EU membership meant we could do this easily; there was little red-tape with a free flow of goods to and from mainland Europe.

British consumers stopped looking at origin labels; no-one cared that what they were buying was grown in Spain or Portugal. Our masters in Brussels loved this, because the policy provided much-needed employment in poorer regions. The environmental cost of transporting food long distances was ignored, as was the loss of Britain’s farming industry. No-one thought about war, weather or pandemics, and no-one cared about lorry drivers; they’ve always been held in low regard. If you’re transporting produce from the poorer parts of Europe up to wealthy Britain, why employ British lorry drivers when the wages over there are so much lower than here – as is fuel duty?

Being an international long distance lorry driver was still a thing when I grew up; we sent British lorries as far as the Middle East. The resourceful men who drove them were well paid and, for a time, I was proud to join their ranks – although I never went further south than Rome. The picture below is from 1991, before all the nonsense that killed the British transport industry.

Since we left the EU the red tape is returning, but many of the eastern European drivers, who used to drive British supermarket lorries, will not. After Brexit, many went home and didn’t return, possibly because of new immigration rules, or because Covid made travel difficult.

In 2009, the EU directed that all lorry drivers should have professional development training, and the driver CPC was introduced. You may have driven trucks safely for decades, but you were now required to spend hours each year sitting in a classroom, listening to a trainer tell you how to do the job you already did. Predictably, many older drivers couldn’t face all that nonsense and quit. New drivers saw the CPC as another hurdle to overcome, so they didn’t bother either.

Aged 21, I paid just £350 for a 5-day driving course, I passed my test on day 6 and got straight to work. Now, I’d have to pass a theory test, train on a small (rigid) lorry, pass yet another test before stepping up to an articulated lorry, and repeating the whole process all over again. I would then be required to sit in a classroom for hours to obtain a driver CPC. That all takes ages and costs thousands and, with respect, we are talking about lorry driving, not brain surgery. It’s a practical skill, but (surprise, surprise) politicians don’t understand that! Last week the government said, “The solution to the crisis is commercial and should be found within the industry.” Whatever business tells them, they don’t listen and they can’t now blame EU regulations.

Until the shelves are empty, I suspect Boris won’t do a damn thing. I’m reluctant to start a panic, but if you’re partial to blueberries and see any on sale, I suggest you freeze a few.