‘There is an absolute danger to the UK supply chain on which we all depend,’ says Road Haulage Association CEO
Almost 50 tonnes of food is going in the bin each week reported Tesco, as experts warn the government of a heavy goods vehicle driver shortage.
During an industry-wide roundtable with ministers on Wednesday, organised by the Department for Transport, UK retailer Tesco highlighted that 48 tonnes of food had been wasted in the past seven days.
Industry experts have advised that there are not enough drivers to meet current demands.
“Since the beginning of the year, 15,000 European lorry drivers, which were reinforcing our staffing, have left because of Brexit, because they didn’t feel welcome and immigration problems,” Rod McKenzie, CEO of the Road Haulage Association (RHA), told The Independent.
“The tax changes that came in in April have also been difficult for them.”
In addition, the RHA stated that some 30,000 lorry driver tests were cancelled last year, due to the pandemic.
That adds up to “30,000 potential lorry drivers,” said McKenzie. “There is an absolute danger to the UK supply chain on which we all depend – 95 per cent of what we have comes from the back of a lorry.
“Whether you work in the food or building sector, there are clear delays.”
The diver shortage is especially problematic when it comes to perishable goods, said Shane Brennan, CEO of the Cold Chain Federation.
“If some chilled and very short life products can’t be delivered they have to be destroyed,” he told The Independent.
“We are seeing the deployment of assets from the frozen food chain into the chilled food chain to try and avoid that wastage.
“Everyone is trying to work out how we can cope with the demand with the lack of labour. We are in urgent talks across the industry and in government about what can be done to get us through the summer.
“We are trying to do our day job without people.”
Where safe to do so, Tesco and other UK retailers donate food to charities and food banks, but spoiled food often goes straight to landfill.
Average deliveries to food redistribution charity FareShare would be 150-160 tonnes per day, but are down to about 100, translating to 800,000 meals a week for people suffering from food poverty, the charity told The Grocer.
“Food we would normally expect to receive into our warehouses on an average day is at risk of not reaching us, and therefore at risk of not reaching the vulnerable people we support,” said Lindsay Boswell, CEO of FareShare.
The historic ability of the UK to deliver is now under threat, claims McKenzie, who suggested the government let European drivers back in, speed up and prioritise driver testing, and “do more at apprenticeship level”.
As a nation, our mindset when it comes to lorry drivers has to change, he claims: “We need to make lorry drivers feel more loved – these guys do an essential job.”