In the week that Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng refused to tackle the UK lorry driver shortage by granting skilled worker visas to long-stay EU lorry drivers, the Atlantic container line ACL has entered a bidding war for British lorry drivers.
Despite the continued absence of the 15,000 Polish, Lithuanian and Romanian lorry drivers who left Britain on the eve of Brexit last Christmas, Kwarteng and the Daily Telegraph refuse to blame Brexit for a problem they say is short term and fixable by “utilising the strength of our domestic workforce”.
Severe shortage of lorry drivers
ACL says the problem is long term and announced in an email to customers on Tuesday that a ‘driver retention surcharge’ of £45 will be charged on each container arriving in Liverpool from the USA and Canada and on every container leaving Liverpool for North America after 1 October:
“As you will be aware from both the industry and general media”, says ACL, “There is currently a severe shortage of truck drivers across the whole of the United Kingdom.
“The pressure on supply has now reached a critical point, whereby, in order to keep pace with the escalating demand across the whole haulage network, we now need to pay a premium on our standard rates to secure ongoing support from our core suppliers.
“Unless otherwise agreed, all carrier haulage moves, for all equipment types, on service contract and tariff moves and for both export and import shipments will be subject to a Driver Retention Surcharge – GBP 45.00 per container.
“Please understand this additional fee will only keep us in line with the premiums and incentives already paid by other parties in what is a very challenging and pressured market.
“We will continue to strive to do our best to meet your haulage requirements. With Far East exports building at all UK ports we do not anticipate the situation easing-up in the coming months.”ACL email to customers
The surcharge is designed to enable container hauliers to pay a bonus for drivers delivering time-sensitive cargo from the USA and Canada to Britain and reloading the empty boxes with British exports for the USA, Canada and Bermuda.
The ACL service from Liverpool calling at Halifax, Nova Scotia, New York and on to Baltimore is the fastest transatlantic deep-sea freight link for shipping containers, vehicles and even helicopters.
The improved Peel Ports Seaforth terminal at Bootle is a key port for Jaguar Land Rover, BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Boeing and Airbus.
The impact of Brexit on the haulage industry
The New York Times explained this week: “In Britain, the average age of a truck driver is nearly 50. Six years ago, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport said that just 2 percent of drivers were under the age of 25 and that by 2022, the industry would need 1.2 million more workers.
“Then, after the 2016 Brexit referendum, the value of the British pound plummeted, making it less lucrative for continental Europeans – truck drivers included – to work in Britain, prompting some to return to their home countries. That trend was exacerbated by the pandemic, when many wanted to be closer to their families.
“When Britain took the final step of leaving the European Union at the end of last year, it meant drivers from continental Europe could no longer be employed at short notice and with ease in Britain.
“‘Until December, there was never going to be a labor shortage because, as soon as there was a sign of one, a company could talk to their agency in Poland or elsewhere and get them to send some people over’, said David Henig, a trade expert at the European Center for International Political Economy, a research institute.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel refuses to grant work visas that would allow EU HGV drivers to work and live in the disunited kingdom.