The road to logistics

Moves to tackle the HGV driver shortage have received a huge boost as the Government agreed to award vital funding for the Road Haulage Association’s (RHA) programme to get more people driving Britain’s lorries.

Road to Logistics – a partnership between the Association and telematics experts Microlise – is a recruitment and training initiative which will bring veterans, ex-offenders and the long-term unemployed into the sector.

The £1m seed funding announced by Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps will help kick start the programme as it pledges to bring 300 new faces into the profession in the first year. Following a successful trial with HM Prison Sudbury and other prisons across the UK, Road to Logistics will link potential drivers with employers, mentor them and put them through the necessary training including taking their HGV driving test.

A slew of new drivers will ease the recruitment crisis as tougher immigration rules are set to make it harder for haulier firms to hire workers from the EU after Brexit. We estimate the industry is short of 60,000 truck drivers – a figure which has grown through uncertainty over the UK’s departure from the EU. The industry relies heavily on drivers from the EU with truckers from eastern Europe in particular swelling the ranks. But a Government slow to reassure workers of their rights to stay in the UK after Brexit left many workers nervous about the future – unwelcome even – so we’ve seen many returning to their countries of origin or off to seek work in other EU states. The crisis hasn’t been helped by a falling Pound which has made the UK a less attractive prospect than it once was for truckers to drive Britain’s trucks

The RHA’s chief executive, Richard Burnett hailed the cash as the culmination of three years’ hard work and praised the Government for giving the programme the boost it needs. When the scheme’s up and running it will also make it easier for firms to unlock much-needed Apprenticeship Levy funding which is key to helping the industry recruit and train the next generation of drivers.

Haulage has an aging workforce. The average age of a trucker is 55 and only around two percent are under 25. But the industry has only drawn down around £10m of the £120m it’s paid into the levy since it’s 2017 launch. Given it costs up to £5,000 to train as a truck driver many young people struggling to raise the money drift off to other professions. And with firms operating on paper-thin profit margins – typically around two percent – most can’t afford to invest in training programmes.

Meanwhile we’ve slammed the Government’s plans to impose 16 percent tariffs on new trucks imported from the EU if there’s a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. Burnett said this is a result of incoherent policy making at a time when hauliers are being forced to upgrade their trucks halfway through their life cycles to meet clean air rules. Around 60 local authorities have been directed to bring air quality to within legal limits in the shortest time possible after the Government lost a case brought by environmental lawyers ClientEarth.

Town hall chiefs are drawing up clean air zones and imposing up to £100 daily charges on pre-Euro VI standard trucks to enter. But the RHA believes that these policies will see hauliers going out of business if they’re not able to upgrade to compliant vehicles in time. The problem is timing. Councils have been given the brief to bring emissions to within legal limits ‘in the shortest time’ with a framework to hit hauliers with punitive charges rather than helping them upgrade their fleets. This means trucks being priced out of city centres which could kickstart a modal switch to vans – and given that it takes around 20 vans carry the same load as a truck it could lead to even more congestion on our roads and therefore more emissions. We’re calling for a phased approach which targets older trucks first, giving those with Euro V engines – some only halfway through their lifecycle – a realistic timeframe to comply.

All this at a time when nitrous oxide (NOx) from trucks has halved in five years, according to new government statistics. Department for Transport figures show a 52 percent fall between 2013 and 2018 and the trend is set to continue as more operators upgrade to Euro VI lorries.

In our recently published RHA NOx Emission Assessment, we project that NOx emissions from HGVs will have fallen more than 80 percent by the end of 2025 marking a seismic shift from an industry seen by many in town halls as arch-polluters.

And how does our footprint compare with other emissions key sources? Very well according to the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory data. Our report points to figures which show that lorries and buses combined accounted for only 7.6 percent of NOx in 2015 – it was 9.8 percent two years earlier.

Passenger cars and ‘other transport’ on the other hand increased over the same period (to 16% and 31.8%, respectively) which makes it all the more galling when local authorities – backed by government – press on with punitive clean air charges for HGVs. Operators of Euro V trucks forced to upgrade early can be forgiven for feeling aggrieved at paying up to £100 per day whilst drivers of other vehicle types are exempt.

London’s ULEZ is already up and running and the capital’s mayor has been very quick to point to its successes a few months in. But we’ve seen nothing about the impact his ULEZ had on air quality within the zone, nor anything about traffic or emissions displacement outside it. Hauliers hit by his charges will be looking on with interest in the coming months.

Some councils are bucking the trend. We can hail victories for common sense in Southampton, Nottingham and Derby, whose local authorities have rejected clean air zones in favour of sensible, sustainable policies but others haven’t listened and there are more battles to come.

We’re making it
loud and clear to town halls that if they’re serious about clean air they need to target polluters proportionately and sustainably. Squeezing cash out of hauliers through pay-to-pollute policies won’t do the job for them.

Road Haulage Association

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