My Lords, we have taken decisive action to address the acute driver shortage, with 25 specific measures taken by the Government already to support the industry as it resolves this long-standing workforce issue. We are seeing results, with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency dealing with around 4,200 applications daily, more than double the pre-Covid rate.
My Lords, we have a truly world-beating driver shortage in the UK. Given that the last time we discussed this the Minister said that the problem goes back to 2010, can she explain why the Government have had to resort to government by panic button, with some 25 last-minute measures to try to avert a crisis? Why was there no long-term plan to improve pay rates and conditions in order to attract the new entrants that the Government now say are so needed?
I think that I will probably say this many times: the haulage sector is a private sector and the Government do not customarily get involved in individual pay rates within those sorts of sectors. We have been working with the sector to address this issue. Indeed, many years ago now we commissioned a study into the availability of lorry parking and we are doing another one to see what we can do in that regard. So it is not fair to say that we have not been cognisant of this issue for quite some time. We have been working with the industry because it is mostly up to the industry to resolve it.
My Lords, this crisis was eminently predictable in light of the age profile of UK haulage drivers and the prospect of Brexit. Do the Government now recognise that temporary visas and increased testing capacity will not resolve the basic problem? Do Ministers accept that in order to attract and retain the next generation of HGV drivers we need not only to provide more training, increase pay and stop the permanent escalation of hours but to improve working conditions, particularly adequate and hygienic facilities at lorry parks, which are provided by public authorities in much of the continent but not here, so that too many drivers have to sleep in their cabs?
I think that the noble Lord has just pointed out the complex and convoluted nature of the solutions to this problem, which is indeed long-standing. I say again that we are working closely with the industry on this. Of course it is not just the haulage industry that has skin in this game; it is also the people who provide services to the haulage industry. The noble Lord will be pleased to hear that I am working with National Highways to figure out what we can do to improve services at motorway service areas and to see whether we can develop some more.
My Lords, the information recently disclosed is that there was a backlog of some 56,000 HGV licences that were being delayed in the process, as well as delays in driver training, by the DVSA. This caused an outrage and, in addition, the threat of industrial action. Will the Minister please tell us what steps the Government have taken to address these issues?
I reassure my noble friend that I have had several conversations with the DVLA on this matter. I assure her that currently there is no backlog at all for provisional vocational licences; these are being processed within the normal turnaround time. As of Monday, there were 27,000 applications for vocational driving licences awaiting processing. However, the holders of the vast majority of those, which are renewals, will of course still be able to drive under Section 88 provisions.
On the strike at the DVLA, it was and remains extremely unwelcome and unjustified. The PCS has repeatedly claimed that increasing the backlog is a success. I do not agree; that is not a success. It is impacting our supply chains and those people who need to use their cars to travel. However, I also point out that the vast majority of DVLA staff are not striking, and I welcome the work that they do.
My Lords, further to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, does the Minister believe that we can learn from others, including our European neighbours, in the provision of dedicated roadside facilities, such as the Relais Routiers network of over 1,200 restaurants with safe parking and shower facilities? These are popular with British HGV drivers when they drive through France. The UK has no such dedicated facilities for lorry drivers, and we are in urgent need of them.
I am not sure we will necessarily follow the French example, but I accept that we need to improve the quality and quantity of facilities for our drivers and the availability of lorry parking for rest breaks. Obviously, I am working very closely with the owners and operators of the 114 motorway service areas we have. Of course, there are countless other providers of facilities that are away from the strategic road network. I agree that we need to improve them and perhaps there might be something more about that in the spending review.
No one should object to heavy goods vehicle drivers being paid a lot more for the valuable work they do, but now we read that some local authorities are facing shortages of drivers of refuse collection vehicles and gritters because they are leaving for newly substantially higher-paid driving jobs for supermarket chains, among others. Since this is a direct spin-off from the Government’s own hard Brexit, will the Government commit to reimbursing cash-strapped local authorities for the cost of paying drivers of refuse collection vehicles and gritters more to retain their services and ensure the maintenance of these vital public services this winter?
As the noble Lord knows, there is a shortage of lorry drivers across Europe so we would not necessarily have been able to rely on cheap EU labour in the current situation. I accept there will be a transition from where we were previously to where we are now. Some people will move jobs and I accept that the key to that is to increase training for HGV drivers. We are providing the tests and working with the training sector to provide training so that people can come through and drive our garbage disposal trucks and gritters.
If I were a foreign lorry driver, I would go home for Christmas knowing that on 1 January I would get another big cash bonus to retake up a lorry driving job. Considering that, can the Government guarantee that we will all have our turkeys available on Christmas Day this year?
As I think I have tried to point out, the Government are extremely active in this area: 25 measures and counting in terms of making sure that we not only address the short-term issues but consider the medium and long-term solutions to this current shortage.
My noble friend may not be aware that I am the honorary president of the UK Warehousing Association. It is deeply concerned about the shortage of forklift truck drivers, which is impacting once again on the supply chain. What can my noble friend do to work with the industry to try to resolve the situation in the run-up to Christmas so that we can empty the warehouses and get the supply chain moving as best we can?
I am very happy to work with the UK Warehousing Association on any measures we can take to increase the number of forklift truck drivers coming through. In return, I would really like the UK Warehousing Association to encourage its members to provide decent facilities and places to have a rest for HGV drivers when they are dropping off.
My Lords, can the Minister indicate what assessment has been undertaken of the potential impact on the availability of HGV drivers after the Government impose checks on goods coming in from the EU as a result of the Government’s hard Brexit?