A flagship Government scheme to deal with fuel shortages received only a handful of applications, Sam Bright reveals

Haulage companies only applied for nine people to join a UK Government scheme designed to boost the number of fuel tanker drivers, Byline Times can reveal.

The Government launched the scheme in early October, amid a shortage of fuel in the UK, encouraging 300 EU drivers without a visa to enter the country. However, a recent written parliamentary question shows that only nine applications were made under the scheme, just 3% of the total.

The scheme contained a number of criteria: the drivers needed an EU licence to drive HGV fuel tankers, alongside a commitment not to claim benefits, an intention to leave the UK after the expiry of the scheme, and an endorsement letter from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Ultimately, due to low demand, only nine endorsement letters were sent by the department.

Byline Times understands from individuals in the haulage industry that many drivers have been put off by the Government’s stringent requirements for EU drivers. Notably, the drivers are only allowed to remain in the country until the end of March. Driving a fuel tanker is a highly specialised occupation, and there is a shortage of HGV drivers in Europe – too many jobs and too few drivers. Therefore, industry figures believe the UK Government offered few incentives for foreign drivers to make the leap to the UK.


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“This is a global problem and we have been working closely with industry for months to understand how we can boost recruitment. All hauliers are putting in place strategies to fill their vacancies and ensure that they are recruiting new talent into the sector,” a BEIS spokesperson said.

The Government has announced a number of visa schemes, designed to boost the number of HGV drivers in the country – not just those transporting fuel. Overall, the UK has made 4,700 temporary visas available to HGV drivers, which will expire early in 2022. This is alongside 5,500 visas for poultry workers, and 800 for pork butchers.

However, Byline Times understands that the Government has so far been unwilling to share information with industry bodies on the success of the schemes, after their launch in early October. Strangely, Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously claimed that 127 applications had been made to the tanker driver scheme – rather than just nine.

Either way, the Government’s proposed solutions seem insufficient to deal with the scale of the problem. Speaking to CNN, British Chambers of Commerce President Ruby McGregor-Smith likened the Government’s temporary visa schemes to “throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire”.

“Badly planned, completely ineffective and only needed to clean up their own mess, this scheme was the perfect microcosm of how this Government does business,” Naomi Smith, chief executive of the campaign group Best for Britain, told Byline Times. “After years of fostering a hostile environment for overseas workers, the Government should not be surprised that foreign HGV drivers are not tripping over themselves to return to the UK.”

Indeed, the Road Haulage Association has estimated that there is a shortage of 100,000 HGV drivers in the UK, which has increased from 60,000 following the UK’s official departure from the EU in 2020 and the Coronavirus pandemic. There were 16,000 fewer EU nationals working as HGV drivers in the year ending March 2021, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), compared to previous years.

This shortage of drivers has naturally affected the goods that they transport. In late September and early October, warnings of temporary petrol shortages caused a rush in demand for fuel, leading to days of extended queues and the closure of some stations. A survey of Petrol Retail Association members in late September suggested that 40% of forecourts had run out of fuel.

These shortages have also translated to supermarket shelves, with an HGV driver shortage combined with a chronic deficit of fruit pickers. The Government was forced to scrap its ‘Pick for Britain’ scheme in April, which attempted to attract more British fruit pickers, after a lack of interest. Some fruit farmers say that they have virtually no workers left after vast numbers of EU nationals decided to leave the country – spurred by Brexit and the pandemic.

Byline Times last week revealed that the UK has seen a reduction in exports to our top European trading partners equivalent to £515 million a week, following the onset of a new trading relationship with the EU.

So far, the Government seems entirely unable to quell the worst excesses of Brexit, despite promising that it will revive the domestic economy.


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