There has not been a single industry that has not been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year and a half. One which has often been overlooked during this has been the HGV industry which has ridden through massive highs and lows.

This has been coupled with the double whammy of the UK leaving the EU, creating a whole new set of complications that have been difficult to navigate. It has meant that the last 12 months has brought about challenges that simply could not have been anticipated, and the industry is now looking at what these changes have meant for them and what can be done to help them to recover.

One business that has experienced many of these challenges is Fleet Ex, specialists in providing ex-fleet vehicles, they share their insight into how the HGV and trucking industry has been battling the last 12 months.

Driver shortages

The biggest single impact on the HGV industry has been a chronic shortage of drivers. With many retiring or leaving the industry, gaps would usually be filled by new recruits, but these have not been forthcoming. The fact that many drivers in the UK haulage industry came from other parts of the UK has been highlighted by the turbulent year that we have experienced, as they have begun to return home, leaving yet more holes in the driver line-up.

It is estimated that the UK is missing between 50,000-70,000 heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers. This shortage had been coming for some time, but the drama of the last year seems to have accelerated this greatly and the shortages are now becoming headline news.

Often, changes in one particular industry are not seen or felt elsewhere, but this case is different. Gradually, the man on the street will start to notice that the supermarket shelves look less full, and eventually there are products that are simply missing. This is not because there is a shortage of goods, but rather a shortage of drivers to get them to their destination.

Those who prefer their weekly shop to be brought to their front door will also experience problems, with delivery slots being in short supply. Again, this comes down to a lack of drivers to make these deliveries, which may also not be fully stocked. Some supermarkets are already considering having to ration staple foods, much like they did during the first lockdown, until the problem is resolved.

Brexit

Leaving the EU was bound to bring about a number of challenges, and one of them was that new immigration rules have meant that HGV drivers are not classed as skilled workers. This means that many who originated in other areas of the EU that either found that they no longer had an appropriate work visa, or could not return to the UK after returning home.

No longer being part of the EU has meant there have also been delays in transporting goods between the UK and Europe, so even the freight that can be moved is not being shifted at the typical rate.

COVID-19

The initial lockdown brought everything and everyone to a grinding halt, but as businesses reopened, demand soared, with many companies struggling to keep up. A number of drivers were either shielding or returning home to take care of their families, leaving the cabs of many trucks empty.

Once the industry was up and running, social distancing measures and furlough meant that there were many delays in usually slick operations. Now these delays are extended even further thanks to the many COVID tests that are needed when travelling from one country to another.

COVID has not only impacted on how the industry works, but also on how new drivers are being brought into it. It is estimated that tens of thousands of HGV driving tests have been missed over the last year, meaning there are too few new workers moving into the driving seats of our wagons.

Government legislation

The government has brought in a number of changes which have impacted on the HGV industry. One of these is the alterations to self-employed tax, making agency drivers much more expensive for businesses to hire than they were before.

The Apprenticeship Levy has also not been as successful as hoped, and there are calls to make it easier for firms to unlock this funding in order to fill the void of missing drivers much more quickly.

The Direct Vision Standard (DVS) has now been brought in, requiring owners of vehicles over 12 tonnes to hold a safety permit if they wish to operate within the Greater London area. This has been put together to try measure drivers’ vision from their cabs in order to indicate the risk level to vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians. A failure to do this will leave firms with a fine every time they are found to be non-compliant and is monitored through ANPR cameras. Vehicles will need to meet a minimum star rating ensure that they have necessary safety system measures.

In addition to this, new emissions standards have been brough in for heavy vehicles in London. The Mayor of London implemented the scheme to ensure all HGVs now meet the Euro VI (NOc and OMo) emissions standards. This applies across Greater London and has been applied to match the emissions standards of the central London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).

Whilst it is thought that the vast majority of vehicles will already meet these standards, there are daily charges of up to £300 for those who do not. When this is added to the Congestion Zone charges, it proves that travelling within London can be a costly business for hauliers at the moment.

An industry might be able to work through one massive change at a time, but the last year has created a perfect storm for the HGV industry that will take some time to work through and rectify. With a lack of drivers, more restrictions than ever and huge delays that show no signs of easing any time soon, the HGV industry has had a lot to contend with over the last 12 months.