Daily Mail Online: LONDON, England – A major British fresh food distributor has warned fruit and vegetables are rotting in cold stores because of a major shortage of HGV drivers.
Tim O’Malley, managing director of Nationwide Produce PLC is one of the biggest companies supplying fruit and vegetables to supermarkets and restaurants across Britain.
He has warned that perfectly good food is being left to rot as there are not enough truck drivers to transport produce across the country.
Nationwide Produce PLC MD Tim O’Malley, pictured, has warned that a shortage of HGV drivers in the UK could result in empty supermarket selves.
Mr O’Malley warned that fresh food and vegetables are rotting in cold storage because there are not enough truck drivers to bring the goods from the depot to the supermarket
The firm, which had a turnover of £144 million in 2018/19, imported 61 per cent of its products from outside the UK.
In an article in the Fresh Produce Journal, Mr O’Malley has warned that his industry has been hit by Brexit, COVID-19 and changes to the tax system of HGV agency drivers.
Mr O’Malley wrote: “The acute shortage of HGV drivers is now the direct cause of perfectly good, graded and packed fresh produce being dumped or left rotting in cold stores, waiting for wheels to go under it. Supermarket shelves and restaurant plates are going empty, and this is now a crisis of national importance.”
He said hauliers have been forced to call their customers to warn them that due to a shortage of drivers they are unable to deliver their produce, leaving them with little notice.
He said one major supermarket could not get 22 full loads of produce delivered over last weekend.
Mr O’Malley said he has had an excellent relationship with his main haulier for many years and said the industry has been warning about the impending shortages for many years.
He said Britain has been reliant on large numbers of EU drivers who have returned to their home countries instead of remaining in the UK.
Worse still for the industry, truck drivers are not included on the Government’s list of skilled labour so new arrivals will need immigration paperwork which makes the UK less attractive.
Also, COVID-19 has seen no new British truck drivers trained within the past 12 months.
He also said changes in the rules of self employment have seen a 25 increase in agency driver charges, which has a further impact on the cost of a delivery.
Mr O’Malley said British truck drivers are getting older on average, with 13 percent over 60 compared with one per cent under 25.
He said the government has to change the tax rules and add foreign drivers to the skilled migrant list to help avert a crisis.
He added: “If not that, perhaps a spike in fresh produce prices as the industry is forced to pass on the huge increase in all labour costs to the consumer.”
Mr O’Malley warned the entire industry was facing crisis and the government needed to take immediate action to avoid having empty supermarket shelves.
The shortfall of 70,000 HGV drivers in the UK has already seen wages shoot up by 20 per cent and consumers are now being warned that grocery prices could rocket to pay for the drivers’ increased pay.
The shortage of lorry drivers has been fuelled by EU workers going back to the continent during the pandemic.
The introduction of the IR35 rules in April, which ensures agency drivers pay broadly the same Income Tax and National Insurance contributions as individuals who are directly employed, has also pushed wages up by £2 an hour per driver.
Asset Alliance Group CEO Willie Paterson said he is growing increasingly concerned by the shortage of HGV drivers in the UK.
He said: “Truck drivers were rightly hailed as national heroes for helping to keep the UK moving throughout this COVID-19 pandemic – and yet the industry’s pleas for help in addressing the growing driver shortage continue to go ignored.
“#The lack of skilled HGV drivers – estimated to be about 76,000 – isn’t just a problem for the sector, but the wider economy too, with potential to cause huge disruption to supply chains and the country’s coronavirus recovery.
“Whilst the recent increase in the funding limit for Large Goods Vehicle apprenticeships is welcome, it just doesn’t go far enough.
“The government needs to take this issue seriously, and work hand-in-hand with the industry to make it easier – and more attractive – for new recruits to enter the profession, including resolving the driver test backlog, improving facilities and removing financial barriers such as high insurance and training costs.”