Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket chain, has admitted it faces a shortage of drivers for its lorries as the haulage industry warns of a widespread UK delivery crisis ahead.
Ken Murphy, Tesco’s chief executive, told a call with analysts after the company’s first quarter results that it was “working hard” to address its shortfall through recruitment and insisted product availability remains strong.
He made his remarks as hauliers grapple for support from the government to avert, what they say, is a threat to the economy from a national shortage of drivers – estimated at up to 100,000.
The Road Haulage Association (RHA) argues that the COVID-19 crisis including testing demands, coupled with Brexit preventing the sector using EU-based drivers, has driven the problem.
There have been calls in some quarters for the army to be brought in to help shift goods if short-term access to non-UK labour is not allowed.
A meeting with ministers this week failed to produce a breakthrough, as far as the industry was concerned.
The RHA said it also highlighted issues around driver training and apprenticeships, parking and facilities for drivers, and the “need to treat drivers and the sector with the respect they deserve”.
There is long-standing anger over the treatment of drivers in relation to illegal cross-Channel migration and communication of rules ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period which coincided with disruption caused by COVID testing demands.
RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said on Wednesday, after a meeting with Roads Minister Baroness Vere: “The need for action is clear and urgent.
“We and many others have provided overwhelming evidence that the shortage is getting worse – the situation must be addressed right now.”
The government has indicated that it is looking at options to offer support.
But a Department for Transport spokesperson was quoted by The Grocer as responding: “Most of the solutions are likely to be commercial and from within industry, with progress already being made in key areas such as testing and recruitment, and a big focus towards improving pay, working conditions and diversity.”