A mindful consumption shortage?

If you’ve been awake for the last week in the UK you’ll be well aware by now of the purported fuel and food shortages sold to us by our ever-wise media.

The front cover of many a newspaper spoke of the incoming fuel shortage, citing a lack of HGV drivers to deliver the stuff around the place. While it’s true the country is experiencing a shortage of HGV drivers, there was never an actual shortage of fuel – just a fear of one.

Manufactured fear

And this is really where this story got going. Once people are convinced there’s going to be a petrol shortage, what will they do? Politely use up the remainder of their tank, mindfully aware of all the other people who might need it more than them?

Of course not! The first port of call for many was to fill up their tanks as much as possible. The omnibenevolent fuel industry quickly took note, salivating over this sudden surge in demand, and jacked up the price of fuel across the board. What a great time to be BP!

While an actual food shortage remains yet to be seen, a real fuel shortage is now upon us. All my local stations are out – and not because there’s no fuel to go around – all the fuel they had available has been bought… Until they receive their next delivery.

£1.12 for petrol! Pwoah!

Why is there a shortage of drivers? 

The problem is multi-faceted but is certainly not one that’s come out of the blue. In fact, the RHA, the UK’s road operations trade association, predicted a shortage of some 60,000 HGV drivers before the pandemic hit in March 2019.

A report penned by the association breaks the shortage down into five main causes, most of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic:

  1. Brexit – during periods of extended forced lockdown, at least 20,000 international drivers returned to their country of origin to spend time with their families while they were out of work or on furlough. Most of these workers are either no longer permitted or have yet to find reason to return given the UK’s exit from the EU and all its associated difficulties. It is also worth mentioning that the UK is currently the only country in Europe experiencing this issue…
  2. Covid issues – Charlie’s sister has been waiting 4 months her HGV license to be renewed following her five-year medical (during which time she can not drive the vehicle).  This should take under than 10 days!
  3. Driver retirement – less than 1% of the HGV driver workforce is under 25, and the average age is 55, meaning there are a lot of older drivers nearing the end of their tenure. Additionally, long periods of Covid-induced joblessness have driven many into different sectors.
  4. Testing shortage – lockdown measures have also meant far fewer HGV driving tests were able to be carried out last year, decreasing from some 40,000 in 2019 to around 15,000 last year.
  5. IR35 – the introduction of this legislation has led to many labour agencies withdrawing from smaller low-margin logistics businesses, as these are the least likely to be able to afford £5-£6 an hour pay rises for their workers. While pay increases within the sector are more than welcomed, this will – at least in the short term – see smaller businesses neglecting agency workers on this basis.

A sight 25,000 fewer people will be seeing this year.

Is a change coming?

None of these problems look like they will be solved immediately; a deficit of some 100,000 drivers cannot be fixed overnight.

Thankfully, over the weekend the government announced a total u-turn to its stance, pivoting from “we’ll sort this out ourselves” to “we’ll offer temporary three-month working visas to any EU driver kind enough to please come back to us as quickly as possible, thanks!”. Up to 10,000 visas are available, split evenly between the fuel and food logistics industries, and this will hopefully help plug some of the leaks in the system… At least until Christmas. But is anyone seriously going to leave a full-time job at home to come and work here for just three months?

Over the coming weeks and months, whether we like it or not, many of us will be forced to change the way we operate day-to-day to accommodate this hiccup in the country’s logistics. Many of us will be forced to ditch our cars, perhaps opting to work from home, go by bike and foot or to take public transport instead. 

And, as we approach Christmas, perhaps many will be forced not to indulge in the season’s usual decadence. To be clear – we will not run out of food. Some people, however, may not be able to have the two-meat roasts they’re accustomed to – maybe some might even be forced into visiting their local butcher for a more locally sourced bird.

Some may opt to eat less meat this Christmas - a double whammy of supply chain easing and climate awareness!

Final thoughts

Fear is the most persuasive emotion when it comes to storytelling, and this is why the world can often appear a pretty grim place when you immerse yourself in the news outlets of the world 24/7.

A mindful approach to consumption will be what ensures everyone gets a good shot at getting what they want in the next few months, be that fuel or turkey. Many supermarkets continue to operate as normal and, if shoppers continue to shop normally, there is no reason why this can’t continue with the current level of drivers.

Interesting times for sure, but let’s not panic.

Several factors have exacerbated the shortage of HGV drivers which is now at a crisis point (up to 100,000)

By Rebecca Garland on 28/09/2021