I was thrilled to hear that the LGV driver shortage is to be considered by the Select Committee.
I have written extensively on the subject in the past as well as the potential solutions that might be considered. In this piece, I do not intend to cover old ground, not do I intend to offer advice in areas where others are better placed to give advice. Certainly I would expect unions to talk about the pay and conditions in the occupation. In the UK we clearly have rest facilities which compare badly to those on the continent. Likewise, I expect there to be comment made by the Trade Associations and Training Providers. I expect that they will offer clear perspective on what life is like in the real world.
Instead, let me offer comment on the area where I feel potentially uniquely placed.
Let me begin with a question.
Which government department is responsible for addressing the LGV driver shortage?
The Department of Transport is full of high quality individuals who work hard to understand the freight sector. You would assume that they are the key government department in this debate. But actually; remit, funding and decisions on this issue belongs to the department for Business Innovation and Skills.
This is obviously something that needs to be addressed. We may well decide that the number one issue in the freight sector is a lack of qualified drivers. It might be decided that something absolutely has to be done. However; and I have experience of this, just because it is the number one priority to the DfT does not mean that it even makes it into the top ten at BIS.
Picture the scene. We make a compelling argument to DfT that we have a challenge in the freight sector and we need government help to fix it. They are convinced. Therefore they take the issue to BIS and raise their concerns. But at BIS the issue of funding driving skills or solutions which will solve the problem, competes with claims from those seeking funding for doctors, nurses, engineers, IT coders etc.
How often do you think that LGV drivers will win in that face-off?
Of course, you may think that this is consequently the case across government. No, it isn’t. Other sectors with ostensible ‘host’ departments receive far more support both in terms of advocacy and indeed funding from their host departments. For instance, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs supports the skills development of workers in its sector. The Department of Health likewise.
In my time running the Sector Skills Council for the freight sector we did not receive a single penny from the DfT. Some of our work was referred to in DfT publications, but not a single pound came from the Department for Transport.
So my call to the Select Committee is simple. When you reflect on the driver shortage and possible solutions, please recognise that the skills of the sector in general is an issue that all too often falls between the cracks of government. Make it the explicit responsibility of the DfT. Of course, we all know that money is tight but by making the DfT responsible they will have to consider where it fits in terms of their priorities and act accordingly. If they don’t act, we will clearly see how they view the LGV driver.
Of course, we also need to remember that both Skills and Transport are devolved policy areas.
Please let’s get consistency across the UK!
Dr Ross Moloney