The government has announced thousands of new temporary working visas to tackle lorry driver shortages that led to a drop in the availability of fuel over the weekend, but experts have warned the measures do not go far enough.
As part of the scheme, 5,000 qualified overseas HGV drivers will be able to come to work in the UK through the Temporary Workers route in order to prevent a shortfall in staff from causing disruptions to fuel or food supply chains in the run-up to Christmas.
On top of this, another 5,500 Temporary Worker visas will be made available for poultry workers, with the new route available between the start of October and 24 December.
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George Eustice, the environment secretary, said these visas were being made available to “alleviate… a very tight labour market”. “It is a top priority to ensure that there are enough workers across the country’s supply chains to make sure they remain strong and resilient.
“We have listened to concerns from the sector and we are acting to alleviate what is a very tight labour market,” he said.
However, Chetal Patel, a partner in the immigration department at Bates Wells, said the new visas “fall far short of what is required” and on their own were unlikely to attract the talent needed.
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“Given the extreme shortages, more needs to be done to make this an attractive route for EU workers,” she said. “Few will be tempted to uproot their lives for the sake of little more than two months’ work.”
Patel added that the extra visas were “a short-term solution to a longer-term problem”, and that without a longer-term solution, the UK was likely to experience more labour pinch points in the future.
“Since Brexit, it’s become more obvious that our domestic workforce doesn’t necessarily want to fill roles that EU workers traditionally held,” she said.
The shortage of lorry drivers has been causing supply issues for a number of sectors for months.
But this latest announcement comes after fears that delivery problems could cause petrol and diesel shortages led to panic-buying across the UK, with some queuing for hours to fill up their vehicles and many petrol stations running out of supply.
The government has said there was enough fuel in the country, but acknowledged there had been issues with the supply chain.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, said: “While there has always been, and continues to be, plenty of fuel at refineries and terminals, we are aware that there have been some issues with supply chains.
“We thank HGV drivers and all forecourt staff for their tireless work during this period,” he added.
As well as the new visas, the government has also said it would immediately increase the number of tests available for HGV drivers and launch a skills bootcamp to train up to 3,000 more people to become HGV drivers.
But business groups have said this might not be enough.
Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, president of the British Chambers of Commerce, said the government’s response was akin to “throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire”, and criticised the government for failing to have a plan to transition from its reliance on European labour to domestic workforce.
“Additional testing will take time and the low number of visas offered is insufficient,” she said.
“Even if these short-term opportunities attract the maximum number of people allowed under the scheme, it will not be enough to address the scale of the problem that has now developed in our supply chains.”