In news that has made the national press and the mainstream TV channels in recent weeks, the construction sector boom is being tempered by widespread delays and product shortages. With the disruption attributed variously to Covid, the so-called ‘pingdemic’ and Brexit, a central thread has been a shortfall in drivers able to transport goods across the country. PBM’s editor Paul Davies considers the situation:
With numerous coronavirus restrictions either eased or lifted completely over the summer, the somewhat inevitable rise in positive cases led to a huge increase in people being notified by the Covid app and told to self-isolate. Whilst the app has now been tweaked and the self-isolation rules for the double vaccinated are being changed, the ‘pingdemic’ was not the only reason behind a labour shortage that was affecting the industry’s ability to meet what BMF CEO John Newcomb described as “the biggest demand for building products in more than 30 years.”
The fact that many European citizens, so well represented throughout the construction ecosystem, have been leaving Britain in the wake of Brexit has compounded the issues related to Covid-19. Difficulties are being reported throughout the supply chain, from manufacturing to skilled and unskilled workers on site, whilst the Construction Leadership Council’s Product Availability Group has cited a lack of labour as ‘a rising concern’.
Indicative of a significant problem for the merchant sector in particular, the CLC noted that all regions reported that “hauliers, HGV and LGV drivers are in short supply and very difficult to recruit”. Indeed, figures from the Road Haulage Association show an existing deficit of 100,000 lorry drivers (across all sectors) which has been compounded by an estimated 15,000 European drivers leaving the UK and the cancellation of 30,000 HGV driving tests during the pandemic.
Faced with these concerns, as well as struggling to secure agency cover, the BMF has reported that many members were trying to retrain existing staff into driving roles — however, the limited availability of test slots have been preventing staff from taking HGV driving tests.
“Drivers are our biggest concern at present. 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 Government has made a number of proposals, including implementing a short-term relaxation of the rules for how many hours lorry drivers can work as a temporary stop-gap measure — strongly condemned by bodies such as the British Safety Council — whilst it has pledged to reduce the testing backlog. However, Logistics UK’s Policy Director Elizabeth de Jong cautioned: “It is good to see the urgent focus on increased HGV driver testing with DVSA, but without targets and a workable timeline, this is simply a statement of intent.”
Speaking earlier in the summer and outlining the ongoing concerns of the merchant sector, Jim Parlato, Director at Browns Builders Merchant and BMF East Midlands Regional Chairman, said: “Drivers are our biggest concern at present. 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.”
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.”
The BMF is now compiling information across its member network to share with Government and look towards a solution to address the issue.
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