According to Paul Empson, General Manager, Bakers Basco – a joint venture representing over 55% of the UK bakery market – the UK driver shortage is putting the bakery supply chain at risk of collapse. Here, he offers his views on what this means to the baking industry as well as his thoughts on what government action needs to be taken in order to turn this around and help get the industry back on track.
“The national driver shortage has been wreaking havoc for some time now but only now is it really coming to a head. Add in the fact that hospitality businesses are due to fully reopen soon, there is a real fear that the problems will only get worse unless something is done about it. It’s causing major concern across the whole food and drink supply chain – not least in the baking industry, which Bakers Basco operates in.
“Depleted fleets, an ageing workforce, Brexit and changing legislation have all contributed to the crisis. For those of us who work within the industry, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. With the changes to IR35 introduced in April this year and a vast quantity of drivers that are or were limited companies, this was always going to cause severe problems.
“In some respects, I agree with the Government. For far too long, limited company drivers have got away with paying limited tax and earned wages far greater than regular employees. Coming from the logistics industry myself, on many occasions I and my teams would try to secure permanent drivers, only to be told ‘No, you don’t pay enough’ or ‘I earn more money being self-employed’.
“These conversations would go round in circles and, as a manager, you are stuck with the situation and have no choice but to continue paying a higher premium to the limited drivers. We’ve all been there when you have to deliver food to the supply chain and failure is not an option, therefore paying the premium is your only option!
“With changes to IR35, a severe backlog of tests for new drivers with the DVSA/DVLA, Brexit and the well-documented ageing driver workforce combined, we now have a perfect storm which urgently needs Government intervention before the supply chain really collapses.
“At the end of the day, fewer drivers means greater cost to the consumers – so we’ll all end up paying for it somehow. I understand that officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have been holding emergency meetings with retailers, logistics groups and wholesalers to come up with some potential solutions.
“Surely there’s a simple solution here. What about additional tests provided to speed up the backlog? How about a real push on advertising the benefits and qualification of being a HGV driver? Although the world of driving is a tough role in itself; long hours, hard work and at times can be stressful on the great British roads. But does the average person on the street know that the UK average salary is £35k per year and that a HGV driver can earn anywhere between £30k – £40k depending on the company and type of goods delivered?
“In my experience, the food industry generally pays very well for delivery drivers and you would certainly be earning at least the average way, and more! We only ever see bad press around driving and how difficult it can be but, like I say, how about a real push on the positives so that we can get more young people entering the world of driving?
“That would be a sure-fire way of turning this driver shortage crisis around and getting back to what we do best: delivering food between wholesalers, suppliers and their customers.”