Plans to offer 5,000 three-month visas to foreign truck drivers are “insufficient” to solve supply problems in the run-up to Christmas, according to business groups.
The government has announced a temporary visa program that will allow 5,000 truck drivers and 5,500 poultry workers to take jobs in the UK until Christmas Eve, in a bid to keep supermarket shelves filled with turkeys and solve delivery problems at gas stations.
The intervention came amid long lines at gas stations after a shortage of tanker drivers forced some retailers to shut down their pumps and ration sales.
But the British Retail Consortium and the British Chamber of Commerce criticized the scope of the package of measures revealed by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Saturday, which were seen by some as a step backwards from the Prime Minister’s ambitions to create an economy post-Brexit qualified.
Mr Shapps said the changes, with short-term visas available starting next month, “would ensure that preparations remain on track” for the holiday season.
House Speaker Baroness McGregor-Smith, however, said consumers and businesses faced “another less than happy Christmas” because of the “insufficient” visa supply.
Retailers had previously warned the government that it had only 10 days to avoid a “significant disruption” over Christmas due to a shortage of around 90,000 drivers in the freight sector.
The conservative peer said: âEven if these short-term opportunities attract the maximum number of people allowed under the program, it will not be enough to solve the scale of the problem that has now developed in our supply chains.
“This announcement is equivalent to throwing a dice of water on a bonfire.”
Andrew Opie, director of the British Retail Consortium, said the limit of 5,000 HGV visas would do “little to address the current shortfall” and called for the extension of visas to “all sectors. of the retail industry “.
He added: âSupermarkets alone have estimated that they need at least 15,000 truck drivers to keep their businesses running at full capacity before Christmas and avoid disruption or uptime issues. “
The easing of immigration rules has been welcomed by other industry groups, however, with Food and Drink Federation chief Ian Wright calling the measures “pragmatic”, while Logistics UK has said it showed that the government had listened to the concerns of the carriers.
Richard Walker, managing director of the Iceland supermarket, called the announcement “critical” and insisted that store staff and other key workers be rushed past the lines at the gas station.
The supermarket boss said: âUntil this subsides, key workers, including food retail workers, need to be given priority at pumps so that we can keep hospitals running and the food stores open, and the nation safe and nourished. “
In addition to the visa changes, the Department for Transport (DfT) said it plans to train an additional 4,000 truck drivers through a Â£ 10million investment in skills camps and budgets set for the adult education, with some of those studying for heavy truck licenses being eligible to have their courses paid for by the state.
Meanwhile, the Department of Defense (MoD) will step in to provide examiners for truck driving tests as ministers seek to steadily increase the size of the workforce.
Officials said the loan of Defense Department examiners to work alongside Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) employees would help organize “thousands more tests” over the next 12 weeks.
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated a global shortage of truck drivers, although there have been long-term problems in the UK with the number of vacancies amid an aging, low workforce wages and poor truck stopping conditions.
In an effort to encourage people to return to the industry, nearly a million letters will land on the doormats of people with heavy vehicle licenses in the coming days, prompting them to give work another chance.
The letter will outline measures taken by the road transport sector to improve conditions in the industry, including increasing wages, flexible working and fixed hours, according to the DfT.
Officials said the government was focusing on increasing wages and improving working conditions and workforce diversity, rather than relying on cheap foreign workers to fill vacancies. long-term.
The DfT said it recognized that importing foreign labor “would not be the long-term solution” to the problem and that it wanted investments to be invested in building a workforce. strong national work.