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Foreign hauliers to be allowed to make more UK deliveries

·4-min read
British driver Steven Abbott, 35, sits in his cab while taking a break from driving at Ashford International truck stop, in south-east England on October 5, 2021. - Sat at a truck stop between London and the Channel Tunnel, Dean Arney, who has worked as an HGV diver for 40 years sees little to recommend the work.
More deliveries could be made by foreign lorry drivers when the government extends ‘cabotage’ rights that currently restrict the amount of deliveries that they can make. (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

The UK government is set to allow hauliers from abroad to make deliveries more often in the UK as it works out how to deal with the lorry driver shortage that is hitting supply chains in the country.

It said thousands more deliveries could be made each month under plans to temporarily extend ‘cabotage’ rights.

The proposals set out in a consultation that launched on Friday mean foreign drivers that come into the country with goods can pick up and drop off goods an unlimited number of times for two weeks before they return home. 

Currently hauliers from the EU can only make up to two cabotage trips within seven days.

Subject to a one-week consultation, the temporary measures would come into force towards the end of this year for up to six months, "helping secure supply chains in the medium term alongside the wider package of measures government has put in place to address the shortage of drivers more broadly," the government said.

The relaxation would apply to all types of goods but is likely to be particularly beneficial to food supply chains and goods that come via ports..

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said the temporary scheme will ensure "the temporary changes we're consulting on to cabotage rules will also make sure foreign hauliers in the UK can use their time effectively and get more goods moving in the supply chain at a time of high demand".

He added that a long-term solution is to develop a "high-skill, high-wage economy here in the UK".

Meanwhile, UK drivers have expressed concerns about the changes because they are worried they may lose work to cheaper EU drivers.

Read more: What it takes to be an HGV driver in the UK

"Allowing overseas haulage companies and drivers to come over for up to six months on a fortnightly basis to do unlimited work at low rates, undercutting UK hauliers who… are facing an acute driver shortage, rising costs, staff wages," Rod McKenzie, from the Road Haulage Association, told the BBC.

"So this is about taking work from British operators and drivers and giving it to Europeans who don't pay tax here and pay peanuts to their drivers."

What are cabotage rules?

The word cabotage has been derived from the French word 'caboter', which means to sail along the coast. 

Cabotage is the transport of goods or passengers between two places in the same country by a transport operator from another country for the purposes of hire and reward. It is heavily restricted in the UK and abroad.

According to courier service DHL, proponents of cabotage laws believe they serve an important role in protecting and promoting domestic companies, as well as the security and economic balance of a country. 

The rules have come under fire in recent years as some feel it restricts free trade among countries, adding to the complexity and costs of logistics.

The UK's HGV problem

For the past few months, the UK has been in desperate need of lorry drivers. A "double whammy" of drivers going back to their home countries either due to uncertainty over new Brexit rules or pandemic-related restrictions has lead to a major shortage.

Trade bodies have estimated the UK currently has a shortage of about 100,000 heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers.

This is impacting deliveries to petrol stations, retailers and homes and there is concern the problem will worsen as the holidays come close and demand for pretty much everything goes up.

Read more: Christmas supply crunch: Why cargo ships are clogging up ports

There is also a logjam of shipping containers due at the port of Felixstowe, the UK's largest commercial port, due to the supply chain crisis.

The fuel crisis in particular has reached fever-pitch and the UK government is offering immediate visas for 300 foreign tanker drivers to work in the UK from now until the end of March to deliver fuel to forecourts. 

However, only 127 drivers have applied for these temporary visas.

Watch: What is the budget deficit and why does it matter?

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