The trucking industry must be given two years to improve facilities for truckers, with clean showers, healthy food and spaces for women drivers, or face a new tax, ministers have been told.
On Wednesday, a cross-party group of MPs called for the logistics industry to “get its house in order” by improving overnight facilities for drivers and providing new training routes to recruit more truckers from diverse backgrounds. It comes as the sector struggles with a shortage of heavy-duty vehicle (HGV) drivers, leading to fuel shortages at petrol pumps and empty supermarket shelves.
Last year, the Road Haulage Association, the industry’s trade body, estimated there was a shortfall of 100,000 HGV drivers due to the coronavirus crisis and Brexit. The shortage is now estimated to have decreased to about 65,000 drivers.
The Commons transport select committee said that if the changes are not made within two years, the most profitable parts of the sector should face a new tax.
Under the proposed supply chain tax, large supermarkets, oil companies and online service giants could be forced to pay the cost of new facilities for HGV drivers.
“We urge the government to be brave and force the industry to put its house in order,” said Huw Merriman, the committee’s Conservative chairman. “A supply chain tax has worked before to incentivize reform.
“If the industry doesn’t deliver the change, the government should and send the bill through higher taxes to those who produce, sell and make the most profit.”
The committee’s report, Road Freight Supply Chain, found that “a key reason drivers don’t stay in the sector is a lack of high-quality rest facilities.”
The report called for the introduction of minimum standards for facilities, including safety, clean showers and toilets, healthy food options and services for female drivers.
Drivers cited in the report raised concerns about “poor washing facilities” in overnight stop areas, including dirty and “broken” showers. The report says that some official stay services are so bad that drivers prefer to park in rest areas overnight, a practice called “air parking” that can lead to fines.
The committee said the industry must do more to encourage women and young people to drive HGVs.
“Women make up just 1% of the workforce. The share of those under 25 is less than 3%,” Merriman said. “For too long, this lack of diversity has caused more drivers to retire than are recruited.
We have been here before. In 2016, the transport committee called for action in the transport sector, but little changed. The lack of diversity is holding back the expansion of the workforce.”
The committee also asked trucking companies to pay for the special training required to drive a heavy vehicle. Currently the cost is covered by the drivers.
Merriman added: “The long-term solution lies in moving more freight by rail and water. This will help decarbonise the sector and make it more attractive to drivers who want to operate shorter distances; drivers who want to see their families at the end of a hard day rather than face unsocial and dangerous nights sleeping in their taxis. In the short term, we need better conditions to make moving essential goods a good career option.”
The Road Transport Association, which represents commercial trucking companies and has more than 7,000 members, said the report was “welcome” and that many recommendations were in line with its own requests for change. He added: “We appreciate the principles behind the supply chain tax, but we need assurances that this will not result in undue cost pressures.
“We are concerned that the industry may not be able to make the necessary changes to avoid the tax in just two years when many of those changes are beyond the control of the industry.”