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Road freight lobby groups have renewed calls for government support to tackle the driver shortage crisis, as research revealed European capacity hit a three-year low last month.
Transporeon’s monthly Transport Market Monitor‘s European capacity index declined 11.3% from April, and around 58% down on May 2020.
It also noted that spot freight rates had shot up to a three-year high, its spot rate index up 8.4% month on month and 28% year on year.
And there were similar trends in the post-Brexit cross-Channel freight market, with capacity down 25.4% month on month and 40.9% year on year, while May’s spot freight rate rose 12.9% over April and an astonishing 61.7% higher than May 2020.
Nikolay Pargov, executive director of freight procurement & audit at Transporeon, said part of the market dynamic was due to forwarders better matching capacity with demand.
“The economic recovery after the pandemic becomes evident when we look on the road transport market. Low transport capacities and rising prices are the result of a good order situation on the part of forwarders.
“At the same time, we are observing a further normalisation on the route between France and Great Britain. The effects of Brexit are hardly measurable anymore,” he said.
However, it is also increasingly clear that the shortage of drivers appears to be threatening supply chains, particularly in the UK. Last weekend, deliveries of consumer goods to independent Nisa retailers were subject to serious disruption after its logistics provider, DHL, suffered a sudden shortage of drivers.
Rob Wright, executive director at supply chain consultancy SCALA, said: “Between Brexit crippling recruitment from the EU, IR35 tax changes leading many drivers to leave the industry and a growing backlog of driving tests caused by the pandemic, this continued disruption could spell catastrophe for businesses.
“If this continues, it is not just businesses that will feel the brunt, with consumers also potentially being affected. If products cannot get to stores, on-shelf availability naturally decreases and, with this limited supply, the price of goods could be drastically inflated. Supermarkets and wholesalers also face having less flexibility to meet spikes in demand and may need to cap volumes of their products,” he added.
“The government must provide the much-needed support the industry has been demanding for so long. It must provide monetary grants to support the industry, amend immigration policy to place drivers on the ‘shortage occupations’ list and significantly increase the availability of HGV driver tests after the blockage created by the coronavirus lockdowns,” he added.
And the Road Haulage Association has outlined 12 actions the UK government needs take to alleviate the issue, also one of which is to change immigration rules to attract foreign drivers.
However, according to the International Road Transport Union (IRU), the shortages are now global. A recent survey of its members suggests driver shortages are expected to increase by 25% on last year’s levels in almost every one of the 23 countries represented.
It said gaps were set to increase at a much higher rate in some countries – including by 150% in Spain, 175% in Mexico and 192% in Turkey – while almost 40% of road transport operators surveyed cited skills gaps as the number-one cause of driver shortages in markets as diverse as the Czech Republic, Norway and Romania to Russia, Ukraine and Mexico.
“Many senior drivers stopped working last year to avoid catching Covid-19, training centres were closed and others left the profession due to the challenges and barriers imposed on them to work,” said Umberto de Pretto, IRU secretary general.
“As we look beyond the pandemic, many operators will find it impossible to find drivers to meet future customer demand.”