The labour shortages in the haulage sector are longstanding, worsened by the impact of COVID-19 on the supply chain, and I understand ministers have been looking at how they can best be mitigated.
I understand that since 12th July, a temporary extension of drivers' working hours has been in place, giving flexibility to drivers and operators to make slightly longer journeys. To ensure driver safety is not compromised, operators must notify the Department for Transport when this relaxation is used.
Another issue is driver testing, which was suspended during the lockdown. I welcome that testing has now restarted, with capacity already increased.
To go further, the Government has also recently announced measures to significantly increase the number of HGV driving tests each year by up to 50,000, by streamlining the process of securing a licence for certain vehicles and speeding up the test itself. These new measures follow a public consultation over the summer, which saw thousands of respondents, including industry leaders, support the move as a positive step to help the sector tackle the lorry driver shortage. The appropriate licensing regulations will shortly be laid before Parliament.
More broadly, in order to support the development and training of more HGV drivers, the Government is supporting the development of apprenticeships, including a standard to train lorry drivers. A revised standard became available in August attracting £7,000 in apprenticeship levy funding.
The Department for Work and Pensions is also developing a scheme to train jobseekers in HGV driving. The Flexible Support Fund is available to help the unemployed or those in receipt of Universal Credit renew their Driver Certificate of Professional Competence.
I understand that the Department for Transport has also provided a grant for the non-profit initiative Road to Logistics to train military service leavers, ex-offenders and the long-term unemployed to move into jobs in the logistics sector, including lorry driving.
The Government has already announced measures to alleviate the haulier shortage, such as the temporary extension of drivers' working hours. More broadly, I understand that government recently ran a consultation on a proposal to extend the ban on exclusivity clauses to contracts where the workers’ guaranteed weekly income is less than the Lower Earnings Limit, currently £120 a week. This would allow more workers to take on additional work, on short hours contracts. The feedback for this consultation is now being analysed, and I look forward to the publication of the outcome. In the meantime, I am happy to pass on your suggestions to my ministerial colleagues in the Department for Transport.
Finally, the Government is also making available 5,000 visas for HGV drivers until the end of March, to provide short-term relief for the haulage industry. These visas reflect the extraordinary circumstances in which we find ourselves this year. The pandemic meant that all HGV driver testing had to be shut down for months on end, which has created a bottleneck in the system. This temporary visa measure will give the industry time to get back on its feet, but ministers have been clear that the haulage companies must now invest in the British workforce – increasing pay and improving conditions – so that we have resilient, domestic labour market that does not require overseas workers in the long term.