Shops warn of worse to come as Eye hauliers Bartrums struggle with driver shortage
Business owners have warned that disruptions to the food supply chain “will only get worse” if the current shortage of HGV drivers is not resolved.
A national shortfall of around 100,000 lorry drivers has already begun to cause gaps on shop shelves, prompting initiatives from both the Government and haulage firms to attract new recruits.
Robbie Starling has had to halve the number of deliveries to Garboldisham Village Shop, which he runs with his wife, Kelly, as a result of the shortage.
“We used to have two deliveries but now we have been cut to one, so we have to order double,” he said.
“Our driver told us he can only do four deliveries a day, instead of six, because everyone is ordering more. I presume it will only get worse.”
Bosses at Bartrums, a haulage firm based in Langton Green in Eye, Suffolk, said that the pandemic and a shortage of foreign workers had created a perfect storm for the logistics sector.
“In a normal year, we see 40,000 new drivers every year – in 2020, that was 15,000,” said operations director Tremayne Johnson. “That was because of lockdown – all training centres closed their doors.
“Drivers also work long hours and, in the UK, a lot of the people prepared to do that were the foreign nationals, who have decided they are better off in Latvia, Poland or Hungary. A lot of them went home and they’re not coming back.”
Things were not always this way; during the height of lockdown, Bartrums experienced an unprecedented drop in demand, which then exploded as the economy began to reopen.
“We had a lot of staff furloughed in 2020 because the demand was not there,” said Mr Johnson. “We wanted to get all the trucks out, but it was a real struggle trying to find work.
“But then we got to Easter and things just exploded at that point – it went berserk. Suddenly, we didn’t have to go out looking for work, it was coming to us.
Bartrums, which was founded in Diss before moving to Eye, has introduced a number of measures to both entice new recruits and retain its existing workers.
Employees have just been given their fifth pay rise of the year, while their driver training scheme has been accelerated, with hopes of producing 30 more hauliers.
“We are also spending more and more money, talking to the guys, and seeing what they want,” added Mr Johnson (pictured).
“Drivers are our biggest asset – they make the company. We have got to have vehicles that protect and retain them.”
Last Friday, the Government announced 50,000 more HGV driving tests would be made available each year in an effort to accelerate entry of drivers into the haulage industry.
HGV driving tests will be overhauled, meaning drivers will only need to take one test to drive both a rigid and articulated lorry, rather than having to take two separate tests, spaced three weeks apart.
Mr Johnson warned that the decision could have adverse effects.
“What’s it going to cost?,” he asked. “Will it cost lives, or will it cost money in accidents?”
“Those drivers will have less training and be less experienced.
“But just because someone has a licence, it doesn’t mean we will just let them loose.”
Meanwhile, for businesses such as Mr Starling’s, the current shortage is not without a silver lining.
“There’s been a few items that have been difficult to get hold of, like flour, so we have begun using smaller companies,” he said.
“We use one supplier for 65 per cent of our orders and we use local companies for the rest.
“It’s a little more expensive, but customers like when they can get local produce.”