In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme on Tuesday (5 October), Mr Johnson accused the industry of not investing enough into attracting UK nationals into lorry driver jobs.
But hauliers have hit back, with one boss telling NationalWorld the Prime Minister’s comments were “yet another example of Boris trying to deflect blame from his Government’s own shortcomings”.
What did Boris Johnson say?
BBC presenter Nick Robinson had asked the Prime Minister to reflect on calls for a demand-led immigration system by the CEO of retailer Next, Lord Wolfson.
Boris Johnson said he interpreted these comments as a call for “uncontrolled immigration” - a measure he suggested he did not support.
“If you look at the productivity of the UK, we have undershot all our major competitors for two decades or more, and that is because we have a low-wage, low-cost approach where business does not invest in skills, does not invest in capital or facilities,” Mr Johnson said.
“Look at the road haulage industry that we’re talking about. The fact is that they haven’t been putting money into truck stops, into conditions, into pay.
“So there’s no supply of young people in this country who, frankly, at the moment are thinking of becoming truck drivers. That is going to change, and it’s going to be a good thing.”
Closing the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on Wednesday (6 October), the Prime Minister once again highlighted the haulage industry.
He suggested it should invest more in “the truck stops, to pick an example entirely at random, with basic facilities where you don’t have to urinate in the bushes”.
How did the haulage industry react?
In the wake of Mr Johnson’s latest comments, Shane Brennan, the chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation (CCF) which represents food and pharmaceutical product logistics providers, criticised the government in a Twitter thread.
“It is not serious or credible to claim that the way we design and fund our infrastructure is something that can just happen - that an amorphous and non-specific ‘business’ is responsible for design, execution and management of infrastructure,” Mr Brennan wrote.
“It is one example, but a live one, of just how cynical, superficial and downright dangerous for our economy this political madhouse is becoming.”
Mr Brennan also took the Prime Minister to task on his use of truck stops as an example of where the industry had failed to invest enough cash in infrastructure.
He wrote that “different types of businesses” like retail and hospitality firms built such stops, which were then largely funded by the haulage industry through charges for necessities like parking and showers.
Mr Brennan was echoed by a senior industry source, who told NationalWorld, “ensuring industry has the right access to workers to keep the economy going is the Government’s responsibility.”
“He can say that we need to pay more as an industry to attract the right resource, which is what we are doing.
“However, all this means is the cost of living eventually goes up and people will, in the end, be worse off as these costs have to be passed onto the end consumer - plus a margin of whatever the companies involved in the supply chain add on.”
Speaking to trade publication Motor Transport, CEO of major haulage firm Abbey Logistics Steve Granite said higher pay could not be solely relied upon to solve the HGV driver shortages.
“We have increased our pay rates by double digits and brought in better facilities and conditions for our drivers but there are not enough drivers out there to meet demand. We are hiring but retaining drivers is a problem when there is a shortage,” he said.
“The Government has to put drivers on the Skills Shortage List. They have to accept that their immigration policy since Brexit does not match the needs of the UK economy.”
What is the latest situation?
Since September, the Government has brought in measures which aim to help the industry combat the driver shortages.
It has introduced a temporary visa scheme to allow foreign drivers into the country for a short period.
Although 5,000 visas have been issued to allow non-UK workers to drive in the UK, take up has thus far been limited, with between 27 to 127 foreign drivers said to have applied.
CCF’s Shane Brennan suggested on Twitter that more time would be needed to raise these numbers.
It all comes as petrol stations in the south east of England remain short of fuel, while retailers have continued to struggle to maintain stocks of some products.
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