Lorry drivers from the EU are refusing to come to the UK – because they believe problems plaguing the supply chain are Britain’s own fault.
The Government has approved plans to bring in 5,000 foreign HGV operators to deal with the shortage, which has been blamed on a number of factors including the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit.
But promises of special visas and attractive pay – with some firms offering as much as £78,000 a year – have fallen on deaf ears, with one union boss declaring they ‘will not go to the UK for a short term visa to help UK out of the s**t they created themselves’.
And lorry drivers in this country are as equally disillusioned, with one who gave up the job after 30 years, likening they way they are treated ‘to being the lepers of society’.
Edwin Atema, Head of enforcement and research at the Dutch-based FNV union, which represents drivers across the EU and Europe said the UK had an enormous battle on its hands to woo foreign drivers back.
He said: ‘Pay is an important area but not the only area. People in Europe and across Europe have completely lost trust in this industry.
‘Before the coronavirus crisis and Brexit this industry was sick already. Plagued by expectation, by irresponsible multinationals who drag down prices, which ended up with drivers voting with their feet and leaving the industry.
‘The EU workers that we speak to will not go to the UK for a short term visa to help UK out of the s**t they created themselves.’
Petrol pumps have run dry and supermarket chains and restaurants have been hit by the shortage of HGV drivers.
The Road Haulage Association says it is short of 100,000 drivers and believes 20,000 have left over Brexit reasons.
The shortages came as:
- The government rule out soldiers from driving tankers to ease the unfolding crisis in the country
- Some care workers, NHS staff and taxi drivers are unable to fill up at petrol stations, London mayor Sadiq Khan has said;
- Fears have been growing over the fuel crisis sparking school closures and care home food shortages;
- The Road Haulage Association wrote to Boris Johnson warning of ‘critical supply chains failing’ in June, but they claim their call for temporary worker visas was ‘ignored’;
- And EU lorry drivers union says: ‘We will not go back to England to help them get out of the s**t they created themselves’;
- Grant Shapps said he was sending SOS letters to one million HGV licence holders asking them to return to work;
- Experts warned panic buying ‘is going to get worse before it gets better’ as UK faces a ‘catastrophic situation’;
- In more rush hour misery for motorists, Insulate Britain today defied a court injunction to block the M25 for a sixth time this morning;
Edwin Atema (left), from the FNV union and former lorry driver Jim Titheridge said the HGV industry was at crisis point
Jim Titheridge, from Canterbury, Kent, took to Facebook to blast treatment of lorry drivers who can drive for up to 11 hours
The shortage of drivers saw petrol pumps run dry as motorists panic buy fuel worried that they will not be able to run cars
The shortages have seen chaos on the streets as motorists block them queuing to try and fill their tanks with petrol.
The shortages and painful queues for the pumps are expected to last for the rest of the week but one of Boris Johnson’s most senior ministers today insisted that the Army would not be brought in to ease the crisis.
Tens of thousands more Britons are working from home today as the fuel crisis saw up to nine in ten forecourts run dry leaving NHS staff including doctors and nurses without petrol and schools planning a return to online learning because teachers can’t fill up their cars.
Drivers queued for four hours or more in lines stretching for miles and some even slept in their cars outside petrol stations as it was revealed Boris Johnson could call in the Army to deliver petrol and diesel across Britain amid a crisis that has seen competition laws suspended to allow businesses such as Shell and BP to share drivers.
Britain’s biggest petrol retailers have said they expect the crisis to ease in the next three days because once people have a full tank, demand for fuel is likely to fall away by Thursday or Friday. And Downing Street again denied there is a shortage of fuel, saying there are ‘ample stocks in this country’.
But as Boris Johnson considered emergency plans to halt the petrol panic, Environment Secretary George Eustice has said the Government has ‘no plans at the moment’ to use soldiers to drive petrol tankers amid continuing shortages at filling stations.
He said: ‘We are bringing Ministry of Defence trainers in to accelerate some of the HGV training to clear a backlog of people who want to carry out those tests, and there’s definitely a role there for the MOD.
‘In terms of other things we’ve no plans at the moment to bring in the Army to actually do the driving, but we always have a Civil Contingencies section within the Army on standby – but we’re not jumping to that necessarily at the moment.’
A lack of fuel has led to a mass return to working from home today, just weeks after the Government lifted most coronavirus-related legislation to get more people into the office. TomTom traffic data revealed that congestion is down today in all major cities compared to when the chaos began last week.
And petrol stations with a fresh delivery of fuel have already been accused of of hiking fuel prices to as high as £1.57 per litre – up from the national average of £1.35 last week – and another 10p price rise could be on the way, experts have warned, as some garages sold out of fuel in an hour this morning.
Cars refueling at a BP service station in Wetherby near Leeds, after long waits for fuel again today saw roads blocked up
Tesco staff directing the queues during a rain storm on Monday morning at the petrol station in Ely, Cambridgeshire,
As dawn broke, drivers waited for hours to get to pumps in South London as panic buying made the situation worse
People push as a car, which has run out of petrol, the final few metres on to the forecourt as vehicles queue to refill at a Texaco fuel station in south London this morning
Britain’s second biggest oil refinery faces collapse as fuel crisis cripples nation: Stanlow plant chiefs hold crisis talks with HMRC over £223m VAT bill
Britain’s second biggest oil refinery is in crisis talks with tax officials amid fears it could be on the brink of collapse.
Bosses behind Stanlow Oil Refinery, in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, are in urgent talks with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) over a £223million VAT payment.
The refinery, which has been under financial strain during the Covid pandemic, needs to start repaying the bill this week unless it can agree a new deal, according to the Sunday Times.
Owned by the billionaire Ruia brothers, Shashi and Ravi, through their company Essar Oil UK, the refinery supplies about a sixth of Britain’s road fuel. It is also supplies jet fuel for Manchester and Birmingham airports.
Around 900 people are employed directly at the refinery and around 800 contractors also work on site.
The refinery’s VAT bill built up during the pandemic under the Government’s Covid VAT deferral scheme.
The scheme, launched in March last year, allowed firms to defer VAT payments to help businesses stay afloat during the first Covid lockdown.
But businesses were ordered to either pay back the money by March 2021, join an interest free instalment scheme stretching to June, or make arrangements with HMRC to push back the payments.
Essar Oil UK is said to have taken advantage of the scheme, to the tune of £356million.
It entered into a time-to-pay (‘TTP’) arrangement with HMRC for a total of £770million in April 2021.
The company says it has paid back £547million leaving a balance of £223 million – which must be paid by January next year.
Payments are due to begin this week. They are due to coincide with an end to the Government’s suspension on winding-up petitions.
However the company says the economic recovery has been ‘slower than predicted’ and it will therefore not make the payment and that it was in talks to ‘modify that schedule’.
‘Therefore EOUK in discussions with HMRC over a short extension to make those deferred VAT payments,’ a spokesman told MailOnline.
‘Those discussions are positive and EOUK looks forward to a resolution soon,’ the spokesman added.
Schools have said they will return to the online classrooms used in lockdown if teachers can’t get to work – with some parents also unable to drive – while many petrol stations are now prioritising NHS workers in special two-hour slots where they must show ID to fill up.
One school in Surrey wrote to parents over the weekend saying: ‘The current petrol crisis could potentially disrupt school next week. The ability of staff and pupils to get to school may be compromised and there may also be issues with our food deliveries. Clearly, we have no desire to go back online so soon after the challenges of the last couple of years but we cannot exclude the possibility that it may be necessary’.
One headteacher tweeted: ‘This is actually going to be a problem. I don’t have any fuel myself and all the stations in my area are out of diesel. Most of my teachers commute further than ten miles to work’.
Desperate motorists have even started following fuel delivery drivers to petrol stations, earning the nickname ‘tanker w***ers’ from critics, as panic buying continues across the UK with fights even breaking out at the pumps.
One Twitter user said: ‘My brother in law is a lorry driver and delivers fuel. He’s on the road now and there are people following him – literally tracking his every turn – in cars. He says it’s like end of days’. He added: ‘I worried it might be really scary for him, but he just thinks they’re all kn*bs’.
Ministers will consider drafting in troops to deliver petrol and diesel later this week if panic-buying persists, sources said, after Government officials gave the green light for plans to bring in 5,000 foreign lorry drivers to deal with the shortage.
Transport Secretary Grant thinks the fuel crisis has been ‘manufactured’ as he accused haulage firms of sparking panic buying after they warned of HGV driver shortages.
He insisted ‘there is plenty of fuel’ to go around as he urged motorists to be ‘sensible’ and to ‘fill up when you normally would’.
He said the rush to forecourts which has seen lengthy queues at stations across the country ‘will come to an end’ because soon ‘everyone’s cars will be more or less filled up’.
Mr Shapps said the chaos is a ‘manufactured situation’ in comments likely to spark fury among retailers and transport bosses.
But he said that it would take a ‘considerable amount of time’ to fix the issue, which he said had been going on for five years and was also a problem in EU countries such as Poland.
Elsewhere the dissatisfaction with working conditions for HGV drivers has also come to the forefront.
Jim Titheridge, from Canterbury, Kent, took to Facebook to blast treatment of lorry drivers who can drive for up to 11 hours a day with limited access to clean showers or a parking spot to rest and eat.
The 62-year-old was met with a flurry of support from others who also claimed to have been forced to give up the job and warned better treatment was needed as drivers are the ‘backbone of our country’.
Lorry drivers are legally mandated to take a break of at least 45 minutes after 4.5 hours of driving but Jim says this is almost impossible when there are limited places for them to park – including ‘zero truck parking facilities’ in his hometown of Canterbury.
Motorists queue up for fuel at a Sainsbury’s supermarket petrol station in North West London, on September 26
A ‘no diesel’ sign has been placed outside a Sainsbury’s supermarket petrol station in North West London
Motorists fill up their vehicles with fuel at a Sainsbury’s supermarket petrol station in North West London
Keir Starmer calls for 100,000 foreign lorry drivers to be given the green light to come to the UK to solve HGV shortage after the Government unveils plans to grant 5,000 temporary visas
Sir Keir Starmer today called for 100,000 foreign lorry drivers to be granted visas to come to the UK as he blasted the Government’s handling of the fuel crisis.
Ministers have announced a temporary visa scheme that will see 5,000 HGV drivers allowed to take up employment in the UK until Christmas Eve.
But Sir Keir said ‘we are going to have to bring in more drivers and more visas’ amid reports that the shortfall of drivers is north of 90,000.
The Labour leader said that ‘for a long time we have known there is a problem’ and it was ‘predicted’ the situation would get worse after Brexit.
He said the Government was guilty of a ‘complete lack of planning’ as he suggested he would also grant permission for EU workers to come to the UK to take jobs in other industries struggling with recruitment like hospitality and food processing.
The shortage of HGV drivers has hit the nation’s fuel network while retailers have warned the Government that it has just 10 days to save Christmas from ‘significant disruption’ amid pressure on the food supply chain.
Ministers want firms to hire and train British workers to fill HGV vacancies, with the 5,000 visas viewed as a short term fix.
But Sir Keir said the Government must go much further to avoid prolonged chaos this winter.
He said: ‘On the HGV situation, we are going to have to bring in more drivers and more visas.
‘I am astonished that the Government, knowing the situation is not acting today.
‘The Prime Minister needs to say today what he is going to do. There are 100,000 vacancies for drivers.’
Sir Keir continued: ‘For a long time we have known there is a problem with HGV drivers, that has been there for years.
‘But we knew in particular that when we exited the EU there would be a need for a back up plan to deal with the situation and there is no plan from the Government on this, and here we are, 100,000 needed and the Government is talking about 5,000 visas.’
Asked directly if he would bring in 100,000 foreign drivers if he was prime minister, Sir Keir said: ‘We are going to have to do that. We have to issue enough visas to cover the number of drivers that we need.’
He added: ‘If there is 100,000 vacancies for drivers in this country and the Government is saying we are going to bring in 5,000 visas, there is an obvious problem.
‘100,000 is, I think Norwich is 140,000. It is the size of a small city and the Government’s response is far, far too small.
‘Now, that is not an ideal response, it is a short term response. In the long term we need conditions to be improved, we need training, of course we do.
‘But the Government has known that for years and we have got a situation now where we have got an absolute crisis in this country through a lack of planning on behalf of the Government.’
David Brazier, Kent county council’s cabinet member for highways and transport, acknowledged the issues facing lorry drivers but stressed that they had an ‘equal responsibility’ to their residents who had been blighted by ‘irresponsible parking’.
Jim wrote: ‘So, you’re running out of food on the shelves, fuel in the garages, you can not buy things you need, because the shops can’t get their supplies? Why is that? A shortage of goods? No. A shortage of money? No.
‘A shortage of drivers to deliver the goods? Well, sort of.
‘There is not actually a shortage of drivers, what we have, is a shortage of people who can drive, that are willing to drive any more. You might wonder why that is. I can not answer for all drivers, but I can give you the reason I no longer drive.
‘Driving was something I always yearned to do as a young boy, and as soon as I could, I managed to get my driving licence, I even joined the army to get my HGV licence faster, I held my licence at the age of 17.
‘It was all I ever wanted to do, drive trucks, I had that vision of being a knight of the roads, bringing the goods to everyone, providing a service everyone needed. What I didn’t take into account was the absolute abuse my profession would get over the years.
‘I have seen a massive decline in the respect this trade has, first, it was the erosion of truck parking and transport café’s, then it was the massive increase in restricting where I could stop, timed weight limits in just about every city and town, but not all the time, you can get there to do your delivery, but you can not stay there, nobody wants an empty truck, nobody wants you there once they have what they did want.
‘Compare France to the UK. I can park in nearly every town or village, they have marked truck parking bays, and somewhere nearby, will be a small routier, where I can get a meal and a shower, the locals respect me, and have no problems with me or my truck being there for the night.
‘Go out onto the motorway services, and I can park for no cost, go into the service area, and get a shower for a minimal cost, and have freshly cooked food, I even get to jump the queues, because others know that my time is limited, and respect I am there because it is my job. Add to that, I even get a 20% discount of all I purchase.
‘Compare that to the UK £25-£40 just to park overnight, dirty showers, and expensive, dried (under heat lamps) food that is overpriced, and I have no choice but to park there, because you don’t want me in your towns and cities.
‘Ask yourself how you’d feel, if doing your job actually cost you money at the end of the day, just so you could rest.
‘But that is not the half of it. Not only have we been rejected from our towns and cities, but we have also suffered massive pay cuts, because of the influx of foreign drivers willing to work for a wage that is high where they come from, companies eagerly recruited from the eastern bloc, who can blame them, why pay good money when you can get cheap labour, and a never ending supply of it as well.
‘Never mind that their own countries would suffer from a shortage themselves, that was never our problem, they could always get people from further afield if they needed drivers.
‘We were once seen as knights of the road, now we are seen as the lepers of society. Why would anyone want to go back to that?
‘If you’re worried about not getting supplies on your supermarket shelves, ask your local council just how well they cater for trucks in your district.
‘I know Canterbury has the grand total of zero truck parking facilities, but does have a lot of restrictions, making it difficult for trucks to stop anywhere.
‘Do you want me to go back to driving trucks?
‘Give me a good reason to do so.
‘Give anyone a good reason to take it up as a profession.
A motorist fills a container with fuel at a Sainsbury’s petrol station in Alperton, West London as it reopens on Sunday
Motorists queued for more than a mile to get to a petrol station with fuel in West Norwood, South London, yesterday
The Tube was quiet on a wet and windy Monday morning as many people stayed at home
Mr Shapps said the rush to forecourts which has seen lengthy queues at stations across the country ‘will come to an end’ because soon ‘everyone’s cars will be more or less filled up’.
A Shell garage employee holds a sign on the side of the road informing traffic that they do not have unleaded petrol
Boris Johnson insists on a pay rise for truckers and will send a million of them morale-booster letters
Boris Johnson has called on HGV bosses to give drivers a pay rise as the Prime Minister prepares to send them one million morale-boosting letters in the run-up to Christmas.
Ministers are said to be urging up to 40,000 retired hauliers to return to action in a last-gasp bid to save Christmas, as retailers warned the Government it has less than two weeks to prepare for the festive season.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is to personally sign off on a million morale-boosting letters urging drivers who turned away from the industry to get back on Britain’s roads.
The move comes amid a nationwide panic-buying spree at petrol stations and growing fear inside Downing Street that supermarket shelves could remain barren until December 25.
‘Perhaps once you work out why you can not, you will understand why your shelves are not as full as they could be.
‘I tried it for over 30 years, but will never go back, you just couldn’t pay me enough.’
Jim said: ‘I wrote the post because I kept seeing everyone blaming Brexit for the shortage in drivers and obviously there is some truth in that, but I don’t think it’s the main reason.
‘It’s an excuse for a problem that’d been building up for years.
‘The transport cafes disappeared partly because some of them didn’t have good business and finding somewhere to park up is a real issue.
‘Parking bays slowly disappeared often because of legislation.
‘In Canterbury, if a truck has a delivery there, it can deliver but there’s nowhere it can park after. If it parks in a layby, it will get clamped.
‘If it parks somewhere on the road then someone is going to complain so where are they meant to stop?
‘It’s draining when you’re doing a job you love to do and everyone hates you for doing it.
‘Where there are places to park, the cost is so high that companies don’t want you to park there.
‘When you do park there, the food is abysmal, the facilities are really bad with filthy showers that get cleaned once a week.’
Since writing the post Jim has been inundated with support from lorry drivers and people offering their sympathy.