Last Tuesday evening, in an effort to conserve fuel. I decided to cycle to a meeting in Bransgore despite the filthy weather. On my return journey, having cycled up the long hill between Bransgore and Burley, I changed to high ration to make the most of the downhill sprint. Alas, a vehicle coming up the hill in the opposite direction, failed to dip its headlights and momentarily dazzled me: so that I slipped into the rough edge of the road; went head over heels; gashed my leg through waterproofs and trousers, and ended so heavily bruised I’ve been limping ever since. So, ended my contribution to easing the current fuel crisis.
I have received a number of representations from frustrated constituents still awaiting HGV tests that were suspended during the lockdown. Apparently, there are 40,000 tests in the queue.
In addition I’ve had quite a correspondence from former HGV drivers explaining why they gave it up and what it would take to persuade them to return. They tell a similar tale: they say that the terms and conditions deteriorated to such an extent over the last decade or so, that it was no longer sufficient compensation for the long and anti-social hours that they put up with. They tell me that the hourly rate of pay has halved. They put this down to the influx of foreign drivers who were prepared to do the work for less money and with poorer conditions.
Many of those foreign drivers returned home during the lockdown and there is no pressure for them to return, given that there is plenty of work for them in Europe which is itself short of some 400,000 HGV drivers.
Notwithstanding, the demand of the employers is that visa restrictions be lifted to encourage the return of the foreign drivers. This cannot be the answer because it was the influx of foreign drivers that drove down wages and conditions in the first place, causing our own HGV drivers to retire or look for more rewarding work elsewhere.
In a free market a shortage of a particular skill will drive up the wage paid for it, and that higher wage will attract workers prepared to acquire the particular skill so much in demand, therefore addressing the shortage. To be fair, this is what has been happening recently. There are many reports of significantly higher wages being offered and even substantial ‘golden hellos’ being paid to newly recruited drivers. Over time this will address the shortage…but we don’t have time, the crisis is now…so bring back foreigners immediately!
As it happens the shortage of HGV drivers has been a minor irritant for months. Many of us will have noticed the odd fuel pump out of commission more often than usual. It was no more than an inconvenience, and one that we could certainly have lived with. What made it intolerable was our own behaviour rushing to the pumps to fill up unnecessarily.
So, was the scare of severe shortage deliberately engineered, in order to create the panic buying, as a way of forcing the Government to lift visa restrictions on foreign HGV drivers which employers had unsuccessfully been demanding for months?