Ministers have today proposed easing driver qualification requirements in order to ease the current shortage of lorry drivers, which has left supermarket shelves empty around the country.
Retailers are battling an estimated shortfall of around 100,000 hauliers as a result of Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter to the logistics sector today, the transport, work and pensions, and environment secretaries unveiled a number of proposals to get drivers qualified faster.
But sector body Logistics UK said it would take until the end of January 2022 to clear the 25,000 backlog of tests.
A consultation will be launched on allowing drivers to take one test to drive both an articulated and rigid lorry, Grant Shapps, Therese Coffey, and George Eustice wrote.
This would streamline the process for new drivers to gain their HGV licence and would increase lorry test appointment availability, they said.
The consultation will also look at allowing trainers to examine drivers in the off-road manoeuvres part of the HGV driving test, and look at whether specific car and trailer tests should be required.
But there was no mention of a short-term visa scheme for foreign lorry drivers, which the Telegraph had reported was being discussed by ministers.
At the moment, 1,500 drivers are qualifying a week, but the government is hoping to raise this to 2,000.
Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at Logistics UK, said the plan would only “go part of the way to addressing the crucial problem areas that the industry has been talking with government about for years”.
“It is good to see the urgent focus placed by government on increased HGV driver testing with DVSA, as this is currently the biggest blocker to new entrants entering the workforce”, de Jong added.
“But without targets and a workable timeline, this is simply a statement of intent. We need to know how soon the backlog of 25,000 test passes can be cleared more swiftly by the DVSA, as we estimate at current rates this will take 27 weeks (ie until the end of January 2022).”
The new plans come after Shapps last week announced that restrictions on how long drivers could drive for would be relaxed to help deal with the shortage.
But the move was hammered by unions, who said the measure was nothing but a “sticking plaster” and also warned that it could cause safety problems.
In recent weeks a number of prominent businesses and organisations have warned that the driver shortage is becoming a serious threat to normal trade patterns.
German sweetmakers Haribo said it could struggle to get its gummy bears to the UK due to the dearth of drivers, while Topshop owner Premier Foods said the government should deploy the Army to assist with the situation.