‘The perfect storm’ is putting the bakery supply chain at risk of collapse

By Gill Hyslop contact

- Last updated on GMT

The supply chain needs to attract a younger, more diversified workforce as HGV drivers. Pic: GettyImages/SolStock
The supply chain needs to attract a younger, more diversified workforce as HGV drivers. Pic: GettyImages/SolStock

Related tags: Bakers basco, driver shortage, Brexit, Supply chain, Transport

The national driver shortage has been wreaking havoc for some time now but only now is it really coming to a head, causing concern across the entire food supply chain and not least the baking industry, claims Paul Empson, GM of Bakers Basco.

Depleted fleets, an ageing workforce, Brexit and changing legislation have all contributed to the crisis. And with hospitality due to fully reopen soon, there is a real fear that it will only get worse.

For those in the industry, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. With the changes to IR35 introduced in April this year and a vast quantity of drivers that are or were Limited companies, this was always going to cause severe problems. IR35 is designed to prevent ‘disguised’ employment, where businesses engage workers on a self-employment basis, generally in order to pay less tax or circumvent employee protections.

In some respects, I agree with the UK government. For far too long, Limited company drivers have gotten away with paying limited tax and earning wages far greater than regular employees.

Coming from the logistics industry myself, on many occasions I have tried to secure permanent drivers, only to be turned down because they can earn more money being self-employed. These conversations would go round in circles and, as a manager, you are stuck with the situation and have no choice but to pay a higher premium to the Limited drivers.

What’s the solution?

With changes to IR35, a severe backlog of tests for new drivers with the DVSA, Brexit and the well-documented ageing driver workforce combined, we now have a perfect storm that urgently needs Government intervention before the supply chain really collapses.

Ultimately, fewer drivers means greater cost to the consumers – so we’ll all end up paying for it somehow.

So, what is the solution? What about additional tests to speed up the backlog? How about a real push on advertising the benefits and qualification of being an HGV driver? The world of driving is certainly a tough role with long hours and stress in navigating the great British roads. But on the plus side, an HGV driver can earn between £30k- £40k, depending on the company and type of goods delivered.

We only ever see bad press around driving and how difficult it can be but, like I say, how about a real push on the positives so that we can get more young people entering the world of driving? This would be a sure-fire way of turning this driver shortage crisis around and getting back to what we do best: delivering food between wholesalers, suppliers and their customers.

Thankfully, I understand that officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have been holding emergency meetings with retailers, logistics groups and wholesalers. Let’s hope they find the answer soon.

Related topics: Industry Voices, Sustainability

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