The UK government has held emergency talks with retailers, logistics groups and wholesalers as a shortage of truck drivers threatens to leave holes in supermarket shelves.
It is understood that officials from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have discussed possible solutions, including relaxing restrictions on drivers’ working hours and increasing capacity for driving tests and testing. heavy vehicle training to help attract new local drivers.
Defra is also considering including drivers on the official shortage occupations list to help make it easier to bring in workers from abroad.
The sources said the government department planned to survey related companies to try to generate support for possible regulatory changes.
Industry bosses have warned that the UK is facing a food shortage summer similar to a series of “rolling power outages” due to the loss of up to 100,000 truck drivers as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit.
Sources said that retail representatives in this week’s call with Defra expressed concern that reports of potential shortages at stores would lead to panic buying and a return of warehousing behavior seen in spring 2020.
Problems are also feared to worsen once hotel businesses can fully reopen next month.
Truck driving in the UK has been dominated by Eastern European drivers in recent years, but many have returned home during the pandemic and have had a difficult time returning. The industry has also blamed changes in the tax treatment of drivers’ pay for hurting hiring.
Trade group Logistics UK has said that nearly 30% of its member firms were searching in vain for drivers.
Tesco, the UK’s largest food retailer, has said the driver shortage was creating 48 tonnes of food waste each week, the equivalent of two trucks.
The problem has been around for a few weeks, but concerns mounted as the industry struggled to cope with a sudden spike in demand for salads and other hot-weather foods during the recent heat wave.
“It was a double whammy: no lettuce and no drivers to get more,” said a retail source.
The lack of drivers adds to worker shortage problems throughout the food industry, including packaging, production facilities and warehouses.
The latest emergency meeting follows a summit with logistics companies and transport ministers 10 days ago to discuss the driver shortage.