First and foremost, it is important to note that there is good news from DVLA that the additional online services and additions to staff have meant extra space in Swansea and Birmingham to house more staff to reduce waiting times. DVLA has been apologetic for the delays that have been created in returning people’s documentation, but with the 32 short, medium and long-term interventions that the Government have taken to help to tackle the global driver shortage, we now have over 90% more testing spaces available for HGV drivers on a weekly basis. So, the HGV problem is being tackled, things are beginning to change, and I understand that DVLA is beginning to get to grips with its backlog.
However, I do recognise that the haulage sector has been experiencing a chronic shortage of HGV drivers worldwide for some time. In Great Britain the issue has been further exacerbated by the pandemic, which forced the suspension of driver testing for much of 2020. There are also longer-term issues facing the industry, including anti-social hours, poor diversity, relatively low pay and poor driver facilities.
As you may know, a temporary extension of drivers' working hours has been in place since July, giving flexibility to drivers and operators to make slightly longer journeys. And on the 8 November, the Transport Secretary announced a major review to improve compulsory ongoing training for HGV drivers, taking the total number of proactive actions taken so far to 32. Other steps taken include streamlining the testing process, increasing the number of weekly HGV tests by 90 per cent and announcing a skills bootcamp to train up to 11,000 new drivers.
Taken together, these measures are significantly increasing the number of HGV driving tests each year by up to 61,000. In fact, the steps already taken have resulted in a 300 per cent increase in the number of HGV provisional license applications, while the DVSA is currently providing 1,350 more tests than normal at sites all over the country.
Yet further action must be taken. That is why I welcome that Ministers are supporting the development of apprenticeships, including a standard to train HGV drivers. A revised standard became available in August attracting £7,000 in apprenticeship levy funding. And further, the Department for Work and Pensions is developing a scheme to train jobseekers in HGV 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.
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 short term 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.
I know that road safety remains of paramount importance to my ministerial colleagues. That is why they are already working with training providers to explore options for an industry-led accreditation scheme. This could offer a standardised training and assessment approach, keeping driving and towing skills current and to a high standard.
In respect of the measures outlined above, I am assured ministers will continue to keep road safety under close review. Within the regulations, I know that provision has been made for a post implementation review of all three measures, with the first review after three years. As such, from now, data is being gathered to monitor the impact of each measure, including any impact on road safety. Ministers have assured me that they will not hesitate to make changes in light of that review, and I will continue to follow the matter closely in Parliament.
I recognise the important contribution that hauliers make to the nation's economy. However, it is for the road freight industry to do all they can to make employment more attractive to UK workers through offering training, careers options and wage increases.
While retention may be an issue for the industry, I am assured that the Government is stepping in where it can. For instance, I am delighted that at the Autumn Budget, the Chancellor announced £32.5 million for roadside facilities for HGV drivers on the road. And further, I know the Government is working with key stakeholders to identify a number of lorry parks across the country where short-term facilities such as temporary toilets, showers and catering can be delivered in the coming months.
While this funding is very welcome, I am assured that Ministers will continue working across government to address the concerns expressed about the provision, quality and value of lorry parking in the UK. As part of these efforts, I know that the Department for Transport continues to engage with stakeholders to encourage the development of safe, secure and high quality lorry parking, and higher quality, more secure facilities which improve driver welfare.
Furthermore, the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence CPC was introduced to improve road safety and to provide economic and environmental benefits. However, I believe that there are now merits in modifying the process.
As you may know, HGV drivers currently need to undergo five days of periodic training every five years to ensure that they remain fully qualified to drive HGVs and buses professionally. While my Ministerial colleagues appreciate that the CPC's aim is to keep standards high, I know they are concerned that some drivers are left to pay for the training themselves.
Finally, I understand feedback from industry suggests that the CPC at present puts many drivers off returning to the industry. That is why I welcome a major review which will look at how the process can be updated to reduce the burden on drivers, both returning and new. The review will also look to ensure that the CPC does not act as a barrier to working in the sector.