UK Chemical Industry joins warnings of shortage of HGV drivers

Joining industry warnings about the shortage of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers in the UK, the Chemical Business Association (CBA) has written to MP Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport.  The current distribution crisis is affecting farmers, food retailers, the construction sector and manufacturers who rely on a tight schedule of deliveries.

Referring to the chronic shortage of drivers, CBA Chief Executive, Tim Doggett FCILT stated:

“We are receiving an increasing volume of reports of delayed deliveries from our distributor member companies and are alarmed that this has now deteriorated to the point that deliveries are simply not being made.”

In his letter, he also stressed how the chemical industry underpins the UK manufacturing and process sectors.  Some bulk chemicals play a key role in preserving health, safety and the nation’s infrastructure.  Key examples are water treatment and chemicals used in medicine.

Zanos Ltd. supply aroma chemicals used in everyday household cleaning products as well as personal care such as soaps and hand sanitizers.  Since spring 2020, these products have become even more important in our lives.

Handing green soap to someone

How did it come to this point?

According to the Road Haulage Association (RHA), it is estimated that there is now a shortage of more than 100,000 drivers in the UK out of a pre-pandemic total of about 600,000.  Now widely reported, there are fears concerning delayed deliveries of essential items to supermarkets and manufacturing sites.

Due to a combination of Brexit, Covid and other factors, the UK do not have enough drivers to meet demand, especially as Covid restrictions ease.  Let’s look at them one by one.


Faced with the uncertainty of their resident status, many European drivers went back to their home countries or chose to work in other EU countries. Even before Covid, the estimated shortage was about 60,000 drivers which shows the effect Brexit has had.

When the UK was part of the single market, drivers could freely come and go across the non-existent borders.  However, new bureaucracy at the borders mean there is more hassle to drive into and out of the UK.  Lastly, drivers are paid by the mile or kilometre rather than by the hour, so any delay costs them money.

Tax and conditions

Changes to UK tax laws make it more expensive for drivers from elsewhere in Europe to work or be employed here.

Originally, the IR35 rules were designed to prevent workers from setting up limited companies through which they paid less tax and National Insurance. Individual contractors were responsible for making their own employment status assessments to HMRC.

Big Ben with UK flag superimposed

Consequently, from April of this year, large and medium-sized private sector companies, or third sector organisations, who engage contractors are now responsible for determining the contractors’ IR35 status.

In addition, haulage companies also want better working conditions for drivers and recognition that they are a vital part of the economy.  Ironically, this stance is affected by recent short-term measures introduced by the government extending working hours (see further on).

Covid and certifying new drivers

With restricted travel and a slower economy at the onset of the Covid pandemic, those European drivers who carried on working here returned home.  As the pandemic wore on, very few returned to work at haulage companies.

In addition is the huge backlog of HGV driver tests and training as a consequence of the pandemic.  The RHA reported that there were 25,000 fewer candidates passing the all-important test in 2020 versus the previous year.  As a result, few new drivers are on the road.

An aging workforce

The average age of HGV drivers in the UK is 55.  With prolonged periods of inactivity this past year, many older drivers took early retirement or moved on to less-demanding roles.

Likewise, the haulage industry recognizes it needs to do more to attract younger workers. Interestingly, one consequence of the driver shortage is an increase in wages being offered.  Some freight forwarders are charging companies a 10% Driver Retention Surcharge on all jobs completed in order to retain staff.

What are haulage companies asking for?

In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, they are calling for temporary work visas for HGV drivers from EU countries.  They are also requesting that this occupation be added to the Home Office Shortage Occupation List, which allows drivers to qualify for a skilled worker visa.

Together, the government must work with haulage companies to address the current skills shortage. According to Road Haulage Association, there needs to be a way to recruit and train a homegrown workforce so that the UK’s reliance on foreign labour dissipates.

The re-establishment of DEFRA’s Food Resilience Industry Forum (set up at the start of the pandemic to ensure the nation’s supply integrity) is another request.  This was recently disbanded but in light of the current situation, business leaders feel it must be brought back to maintain the UK’s integrated and finely balanced supply chains.

How has the government responded?

The RHA and industry leaders have repeatedly called for a joint Government-industry partnership to lay the foundations for a more permanent solution.

The government recently permitted a temporary relaxation of driver’s hours to allow existing staff to work longer as it tries to respond to this looming crisis.

Until August 8th, drivers are able to increase their daily driving limit from nine hours to 11 hours, twice a week, to make longer journeys.  But this has been criticised as compromising safety standards.  This will do little, industry leaders say, to urgently address the disruption to critical UK and EU supply chains.

Though industry leaders are calling for skilled EU drivers on a temporary basis, it seems the Home Office is not in favour of this.  One can only suspect it is because it runs counter to its Brexit position.

With exceptional high container volumes coming into ports, disruption already occurring there with new import regulations, and drivers taking off for summer holidays, some predict that the situation will not return to normal until late 2022.

Recognizing these issues, Zanos works closely with our freight forwarders to address any concerns and plan accordingly to maintain stock levels.

As part The Stort Group, we offer a diverse range of aroma chemicals and natural ingredients for the flavour and fragrance industry. Please contact our Zanos sales team today on 01565 755899 or email

Photo of hands with soap thanks to Thanos Pal on Unsplash

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