Winter Of Discontent #2

Sometimes bad news permeates & seeps into our consciousness over a period of time. 

I refer here to the gradual worsening of supply of goods & utilities across the UK and parts of Europe that has been gathering pace in the last few months. During the last few weeks the UK, which, as an island, relies upon complicated supply lines & logistics for most products, has seen gas price hikes, consumer product inflation, petrol hoarding & many product lines cut from supermarkets the length and breadth of the nation.

It feels like the next few steps in a gradually worsening downward staircase. So, what’s really behind all of this & are we headed into a very tough economic winter the likes of which we haven’t seen in the UK since the 1970’s and early 1980’s?       

We’re all aware that the problem manifests in the truck driver shortage debate but let’s start by unpacking the underlying causation of the problems; I see 6 primary contributors & I’ve taken a stab at ranking them from 1 to 6 in terms of importance. I’ve also suggested a solution to each cause.

Lockdowns

Heavy goods vehicle testing stopped & medical certificate renewals slowed to a crawl so even those who wanted to enter or stay in the industry were thwarted.

Solution

For goodness sake, have the humility to now recognise that the COVID-19 lockdowns caused far more health, economic & social problems than they ever solved. They must never ever be used again as a tool for anything.

Brexit

Without doubt, the big cahuna. According to the government’s own official statistics 16000 lorry drivers left the UK post Brexit and haven’t returned. The true number if we include those without settled status will be larger still & when we add the customs border checks that start imminently many drivers simply won’t want to even travel to the UK with a load never mind live and work here.

The mood music for professional drivers wanting to be in the UK is all wrong too. A foreign national driver simply cannot now qualify for a working visa to enter the UK as he or she will not meet the points based criteria. Surely we can all agree this is a highly skilled role requiring enormous commitment & dedication. The exact type of people we want in this country!   

Solution

Simple really, cancel this ridiculous experiment and rejoin the EU and the European community. The UK’s attempt in recent days to issue a handful of visas to truck drivers for 3 months is laughable.

Why would any driver from Europe want to come to the UK for 3 months only earning the same or less than he can earn elsewhere, with higher taxation, a worse currency exchange & with no surety that he will have work after Christmas. Utter, bare faced madness.

For sure we must attract more domestic workers into the logistics profession but I have absolutely no confidence whatsoever that the UK government could organise itself never mind a forward thinking employment campaign     

IR35

Less well known is an obscure UK tax-related change that now deters many people from pursuing their authentic self-employed status due to higher taxes and social charges. Truck drivers are regularly caught by this legislation and in an effort to tax wealth creators more highly (yes, really!), the UK government has firmly shot itself in the foot.       

Solution

Stop over-taxing the very people who create wealth and do not receive the same level of benefits as employees and public servants.  

Currency

The GBP has weakened considerably against the EUR since the UK voted to leave the eu. This means that the attraction for many EU drivers to be in the UK earning GBP has declined as the buying power of their earnings in Europe has fallen 10-20%.

Solution

Cancel Brexit, improve prospects for the UK economy as a result and maybe, just maybe, you’ll get your high pound sterling back again…

Payment per mile/km

Truck drivers are paid on a distance not time basis. So, if you’re held up at the ports or in traffic then you’re not being paid at all.

Solution

Essentially this is a tried and tested, age-old system which normally works. The challenge comes from border blockages and transport infrastructure not the pay system itself.  

UK transport policy

Regular travellers throughout the UK can attest to the poor state of the road infrastructure & the lack of investment over the last 25 years. Hellbent on constructing £100bn train lines (HS2) that nobody wants, the arterial road based supply routes have been left to rot which means slower journeys, long queues, increased vehicle maintenance costs…

Solution

Cancel HS2 & spend the money on a world class road network which can carry zero emission, low emission and legacy vehicles 24/7 365  

You’ll notice here that I have not really referenced pay and conditions at all. Fundamentally, we cannot allow the government to simply blame the industry itself ‘they don’t pay enough, they don’t train enough new entrants, they don’t provide enough holiday…’

The market will always manage pay via supply and demand which is why right now, today, an HGV driver can command pay of over £1000 per week quite easily – a decent wage in anyone’s language!  The consequence though is that transport operators will slide to loss making which means delivery costs will go up considerably as a means to cover those higher wages.    

In summary, what we have seen in the UK in recent weeks is just the start. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might conclude that this was all a ploy to end up back in the EU…

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