The Government can’t shirk blame for the HGV driver shortage

To say that this problem is being faced across Europe is an abrogation of ministers’ own duty to do what they can to mitigate the effects

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, has called the panic buying of fuel a “manufactured situation” deliberately engineered to pressure the Government over the shortage of HGV drivers. He accused a haulage association, which denied the claims, of leaking details of a private meeting about pressures in the industry, creating concern among motorists about petrol and diesel supplies.

Mr Shapps said there was plenty of fuel and no need for drivers to rush to the pumps. This may be true, but the uncomfortable fact that Mr Shapps must address is why the Government had not acted sooner. Ministers were warned months ago about the impact that a lack of heavy goods drivers would have on many aspects of life. To say that this problem is being faced across Europe and the world is an abrogation of their own duty to do what they can to mitigate the effects.

One difficulty has been the huge backlog in testing potential new drivers caused by the chaos at the DVLA. This is blamed on the pandemic and yet it is emblematic of the failure of the public sector to get its act together, with many thousands of officials still working from home.

The Government resisted issuing temporary visas to foreign drivers to work in the UK on the grounds that this ran counter to its Brexit policy on border control. Yet Boris Johnson has now had to ease the rules even though shortages on the Continent suggest this will do little to plug the gap here unless far higher wages are available, given the checks drivers will need to undergo.

There are many causes of this mess but, as past governments have found, when it comes to handing out blame, they are left carrying the can.

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