Driver shortage The Elephant in the room?

Estimates vary wildly as to LGV driver shortages, from 90,000 to 140,000. Opinions are equally as wild as to the cause, I won’t say I told you so but hardly the pandemic which kept most “Truckers” busy, keeping supplies rolling throughout the pandemic despite not being awarded essential status and having to fend for themselves denied access to toilets and essential facilities whilst on the road for 16 hrs a day. Hardly the second best option, that there are any number of young drivers itching to attain Class 1 & 2 driver status, to join the band of brothers who leave home for anything from 16 hrs a day or three weeks (for tampers) with little or no facilities in the UK. Then the best one of all which proves history repeats itself, during the final stages of Tony Blair’s term of office the UK recorded a 140,000 driver shortage via the Road Haulage Association, citing it was a disaster waiting to cripple the economy, quick thinking Tony married the migrant workers rules to the EU freedom of movement legislation and sent teams out to recruit drivers in Poland and later Hungary and Romania, swathes of drivers arrived and rescued the industry. Drivers with expectations of 4 euros per hour were amazed at the equivalent of four times that rate as a basic pay! British drivers were denied the leverage to move the rates which had stagnated for several years. Trampers quickly moved to Limited status and before the great and good of payrolled staff pontificate as to the obvious tax dodge being perpetrated, the core precept was to enable to professional driver to accept the stagnated rate whilst effectively running two households, returning to wife and family after long periods on the road meeting their financial needs whilst spending money on the very things that most payroll staff take for granted clean water, washing facilities and meals at inappropriate times of the day. The Limited status allowed them to seek reductions in taxable income for the bare essentials of surviving on the road day after day week after week, this acceptance of their condition allowed the freezing of freight driving rates for the next 18 years.

Brexit now makes an entry alongside “Pandemic Pinging” and Class 1&2 backlog of tests, migrant drivers who had made a home in the UK were forced by the 30th June 2021 to address their status and if they required settled status in the UK arduous tests had to be overcome to prove eligibility.

Lets now introduce the “Elephant in the Room” and annex it to the plight of the migrant worker. Remembering from the narrative above, the political solution employed to divert the driver shortage which also resulted in the freezing of driving hourly rates for two decades and without malice aforethought they introduce IR35! I will not apologies for the apostrophe. Overnight panic spreads through the industry with agencies unable to understand the legislation, end users like rabbits hit by halogen headlights froze in abject panic and without consideration to the act, banned the use of their Limited Companies, their only means of retaining the low rates of pay. The results are self evident, rates were lifted to allow Umbrella Assignment rates to be employed; agencies and end workers are fighting for the  the spoils of a decimated  workforce. Drivers who had left the armed forces with pensions and excellent knowledge of logistics can’t use their Limited Companies, drivers who for lifestyle reasons work long tramping shifts of two or three weeks then return home to Romania or Poland can’t use their Limited Companies, drivers who have family commitments which preclude them taking regular employment can’t use their Limited Companies, drivers who have several sources of income can’t use their Limited Companies, the list is endless. The agencies, end users and HMRC created this situation by blatantly acquiescing to Limited Companies thereby holding the rates down for nearly 20 years! (that apostrophe again).

There isn’t a fix, the damage is done, if you want a professional workforce to pay 25% of his or her gross income to HMRC whilst working 16hr shifts to keep freight moving, then rates need to catch up for 20 years of political and industrial parsimony.

Politicly HMRC hoped for a £2.9bn recovery of tax from the introduction of IR35, skipping the disruption to supermarket shelves, the pay rates will have to rise by 20% for freight drivers to retain even a semblance of normality which will be passed up the chain to you and I, paying more for produce and goods, price rises will feed inflation which in turn will reduce net incomes to  80% of the population; well done;  Blair, Brown, Osborne, Hammond and finally Sunik, the freight industry applaud you for stifling the commercial  aspirations of a generation, after explaining the irregular long hours, the seasonal aspects, the lack of basic amenities, may I wish you good luck with your recruitment drive.