Festive deliveries ‘to be hit by driver shortage’

27th November 2014

Some of the busiest online shopping days of the year will be witnessed in just a matter of days, but ongoing fears over the number of qualified drivers available to carry out these deliveries mean many people could be left high and dry and without their purchases before Christmas.

This is the view of Sally Gilson, skills policy manager at the Freight Transport Association (FTA), who argued more now needs to be done to provide a short-term boost to driver numbers across the country to meet this seasonal need, but at the same time it is an issue that will not be resolved unless positive long-term changes to the industry are made.

A Christmas time bomb

The FTA has now published the findings of a recent poll carried out as part of its ongoing Transport Manager Conference series, which revealed the attitudes of attendees towards the present difficulties faced by many hauliers in acquiring the services of qualified drivers.

Its results showed different areas of the country have differing attitudes when it comes this issue, but a high percentage of respondents from every area highlighted their concerns regarding the impact this problem is having both now and could have in the future.

Overall, 67 per cent of respondents from Durham described the present struggle to attract qualified drivers as being "very bad", while adding this is becoming a major issue for many firms.

Meanwhile, 60 per cent of attendees in Warrington stated their belief that the lack of drivers will have an impact on Christmas deliveries across the country this year and 57 per cent of Dunblane respondents highlighting the likely long-term nature of the problem, arguing it is not something that can be fixed overnight.

"With just a month to go until Christmas day, it is clear that the festive season is at the forefront of our minds – but driver shortage is not just a seasonal issue, it's a long-term problem," Ms Gilson stated.

"[The] FTA has long voiced its worries regarding driver shortage and is calling on the government to support the freight industry with funding in order to encourage new drivers to enrol in the logistics industry."

A surge in online sales

New figures published by online retail analyst IMRG have predicted the coming festive period is set to be the busiest ever in terms of the value and volume of online purchases carried out by UK shoppers.

According to the organisation's forecasts, Black Friday (November 28th), Cyber Monday (December 1st) and Manic Monday (December 8th) are to be the biggest days for online shopping activity in the whole of 2014 and individuals buying items on these days may find difficulties in receiving their deliveries ahead of the Christmas week if action to bolster driver number is not now taken.

Overall, Black Friday has been forecast to witness 124 million transactions via online retail sites in the UK, with an overall value of £555.5 million. Meanwhile, the figures rise by Cyber Monday and Manic Monday, standing at 145 million (£649.6 million) and 151 million (£676.5 million) respectively.

Tina Spooner, chief information officer at IMRG, commented: "Smartphones and tablets are set to account for over half of all traffic to retail websites during the festive season and on Black Friday alone, online spend via mobile devices is set to reach over £196 million.

"E-retail sales have grown 17 per cent year-to-date in 2014 and retailers are increasingly confident in their online performance during the fourth quarter, which indicates the industry is gearing up for another record-breaking Christmas."

It is therefore feasible that unless the haulage industry takes steps to increase its capacity in the coming weeks, many people could be left without their purchases when the big day – December 25th – rolls round.

Make or break time approaching

Finally, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) recently echoed the concerns raised by the FTA regarding the lack of new drivers entering the profession at present, with RHA chief executive Richard Burnett stating the government now needs to take action to reduce the cost to individuals of attaining a licence.

He argued that the real term costs of qualification  for HGV drivers now stands at between £4,000 and £5,000 and this is therefore a considerable block in the pipeline of attracting more people to the industry.

There is a current shortage of 45,000 in the number of drivers required to meet the needs of UK haulage providers and this figure is only likely to increase in the years ahead if action is not soon taken.