The Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) says its merchant members are reporting widespread disruption and delays within the sector as a result of a shortfall in drivers able to transport goods across the country.
Across the BMF membership, companies are recruiting and retraining existing staff into driving roles, but have reported difficulties sourcing new and replacement drivers, as well as struggling to secure agency cover due to demand. Limited test slots are also preventing staff from taking HGV driving tests, while holiday plans over the summer further reduce driver availability.
“Drivers are our biggest concern at present,” explained Jim Parlato, a Director at Browns Builders Merchant and BMF East Midlands Regional Chairman. He continued: “We have two of our warehouse and yard operatives taking their tests shortly but getting courses and booking tests has become an issue with demand meaning months of waiting.”
The issues are leading to extended lead times for some products, and even failed deliveries.
BMF South West Regional Chairman, David Young of Bradfords Building Supplies, added: “We have 16 LGV driver vacancies at the moment. We’re struggling to recruit and also no agency cover is available due to demand. The knock-on effect is lead times to our customers are extended by a day, from one-to-two days to two-to-three days.
“We do have 22 internal drivers being trained up but there are not enough test slots available so this is taking longer than normal. Suppliers to builders’ merchants have also been hit by the shortfall, resulting in restrictions on some products and failed deliveries at short notice.”
Picking up the point, BMF Anglia Regional Chairman, Hugh Guntrip of Huws Gray, added: “We are struggling to recruit new and replacement drivers within our merchant branches. The largest impact is on our suppliers resulting in product restrictions and failed incoming deliveries at very short notice.”
The issue comes as figures from The Road Haulage Association (RHA) show an existing deficit of 60,000 lorry drivers has been compounded by 15,000 European drivers leaving the UK and the cancellation of 30,000 HGV driving tests during the pandemic.
The BMF is now compiling information across its member network to share with Government and look towards a solution to address the issue. CEO John Newcomb said: “It is clear that there is a major deficit of HGV drivers and issues with training and supporting new recruits into the role, and this is now causing delayed deliveries and rising costs across the UK.”
Indicative of the attention the issue is getting, Wolseley UK recently released a statement to reassure its customers. It said:
“At Wolseley UK, we pride ourselves on delivering a first-class service to our customers. So, in light of the HGV driver shortage challenge that the UK is currently facing, we wanted to update and reassure you on the steps that we’re taking to make sure that our deliveries continue to arrive on time and in full to our customers.
“We recognise the huge impact that this situation is having on supply chains across the country and so we’re being proactive and working hard to make changes and decisions, so our customers are not affected. As you may know, we partner with XPO Logistics – a top ten global provider of transportation and logistics service. Through XPO, we offer an in-night delivery service so if a customer places an order by 5pm, it will arrive in their chosen branch by 7.30am the next day.
“Be assured that we’re working very closely with XPO to maintain this level of service. Some of the adjustments we’ve made include using our XPO fleet to collect stock from our suppliers, to ease the pressure that they’re starting to face. We’re offering our branch colleagues different solutions to ensure they can serve customers efficiently and effectively. We’re also maintaining high levels of inventory across all our business units and distribution centres to help protect continuity of supply for our customers.
“We’re proud that our on-time deliveries have remained high, despite the challenges. Since the start of the summer, we’ve achieved over 97% of orders placed the day before into our branches by 7.30am. Please be assured that there is no change to our delivery schedule so please continue to place your orders with confidence.
“Thank you for your continued support and loyalty and we’re positive that by working closely with our partners, we’ll continue to deliver the first-class service our customers deserve.”