Britain’s Department for Transport (DfT) says up to 4,000 people will soon be able to take training courses to become HGV drivers, as part of a package of measures to ease temporary supply chain pressures.

The measure comes as the UK witnessed some panic buying at filling stations during the weekend of 25 September, with motorists scrambling to fill tanks amid media reports of widespread shortages.

The Department for Education is investing up to GBP10m (US$14m) to create new skills camps to train up to 3,000 more people to become HGV drivers.

The free, short, intensive courses will train drivers to be road ready and gain a category C or category C&E licence. An additional 1,000 people are expected to be trained through courses accessed locally and funded by the government’s adult education budget.

Fuel tanker drivers need additional safety qualifications, which the government will work with industry to ensure drivers can access quickly.

The DfT has also agreed to work with Driver and Vehicles Standards Agency (DVSA) to make sure tests will be available for participants who have completed training courses as soon as possible.

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The Ministry of Defence (MOD) is announcing immediate deployment of its Defence Driving Examiners (DDEs) to increase the country’s testing capacity. MOD examiners will work alongside DVSA examiners, providing thousands of extra tests in the next 12 weeks.

The package comes as the DfT, along with logistics organisations, have worked with the DVLA to send nearly 1m letters to thank HGV drivers for their role supporting the economy and to encourage those who have left the industry to return.

The letter, which will arrive in the coming days, sets out steps the road haulage sector is taking, including increased wages, flexible working and fixed hours.

Alongside this, 5,000 HGV drivers will be able to come to the UK for three months in the run-up to Christmas, providing short-term relief for the haulage industry. A further 5,500 visas for poultry workers will also be made available for the same short period.

Recruitment for additional short-term HGV drivers and poultry workers will start in October and the visas will be valid until 24 December, 2021. UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) is preparing to process required visa applications.

The DfT adds however, it wants to see employers make long term investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on overseas labour.

Visas will not be the long-term solution it notes and reform within the industry is vital.

“This package of measures builds on the important work we have already done to ease this global crisis in the UK,” said Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps.

“We are acting now, but industries must also play their part with working conditions continuing to improve and salary increases continuing to be maintained in order for companies to retain new drivers.

“After a very difficult 18 months, I know how important this Christmas is for all of us and that’s why we’re taking these steps at the earliest opportunity to ensure preparations remain on track.”

Separately, the government is also bringing in legislation to allow delegated driving examiners at the three emergency services and the MOD to be able to conduct driving tests for one another. This will give the emergency services greater flexibility and help increase the number of tests DVSA examiners can provide HGV examiners.

The government will also provide funding for both medical and HGV licences for any adult who completes an HGV driving qualification accessed through the Adult Education Budget in academic year 2021/22. Previously, adults who took these qualifications had to pay for their own licences.

The change will be backdated and applied to anyone who started one of these qualifications on or after 1 August, 2021.

“We welcome the government’s decision to temporarily add HGV drivers and poultry workers to the existing visa scheme,” said UK Food and Drink Federation chief executive, Ian Wright.

“This is something UK food and drink manufacturers have asked for over the last few months – including in industry’s Grant Thornton report – to alleviate some of the pressure labour shortages have placed on the food supply chain.

“This is a start, but we need the government to continue to collaborate with industry and seek additional long-term solutions.”