Lack of truckers means shortages on Norfolk's shelves

One of the Jack Richards and Sons lorries.

Hauliers like Jack Richards are struggling to recruit drivers, while supermarkets struggle to fill their shelves - Credit: Ian Burt

Driver wanted, Norfolk. Salary range £46.000 - £54,000. Includes uniform, £26 overnight allowance and £10 a day for meals.

You'd think people would be queueing up to get in the cab of an HGV on those wages. But a shortage of drivers means supermarkets are struggling to fill their shelves, while there are warnings things could get worse.

A double whammy of a backlog of HGV tests caused by Covid and foreign drivers returning home because of Brexit has exposed the Achilles heel of our economy.

Shops have warned that shortages are only temporary

The DVSA fears shortages could become "acute" in the run-up to Christmas - Credit: Archant

But it's not the only reason hauliers like Fakenham-based Jack Richards and Son are struggling to recruit staff.

Things were very different when the firm's late founder Jack hit the road with his first lorry  in the 1950s, delivering fruit and veg from the Fens to wholesale markets in the East Midlands.


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His business grew through the 1960s and '70s as the way we shopped changed. Supermarkets replaced the greengrocers. Processed food replaced fresh and the supply chain was born.

Instead of almost straight to market, produce went to be washed and graded before heading for the pack house. Then it was off to the warehouse before being delivered to the store. 

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Fakenham-based Jack's fleet of yellow lorries kept on growing to meet demand as our food miles spiralled.

  

Fakenham; Jack Richards puts a poppies on his whole fleet of lorries; Jack is a leading light inm th

The late Jack Richards, whose Fakenham-based haulage firm started out with a single lorry and today plays an integral part in the supermarket supply chain - Credit: Colin Finch

Today the firm's 350 lorries are part of a larger group with 2,500 trucks hauling household names like Kellogg's Cornflakes, along with the raw materials to make staples like baked beans. 

Food criss-crosses the country before it ends up in our shopping trolleys. Road haulage has become the heart of the economy.

But there lies the rub. For if there aren't enough people to drive the lorries, the shelves soon empty. 

Dominic Purslow, Depot Principal at Jack Richards & Son

Dominic Purslow, general manager at Jack Richards and Son's depot at Fakenham - Credit: Archant

Jack Richards' general manager Dominic Purslow said: "It's a whole supply chain issue.

"Say Tesco's need tins of baked beans. The beans go on a lorry to the factory, the sugar goes on a lorry to the factory, the vinegar goes on a lorry to the factory. 

"The steel has to go from Wales to Norwich to be made into tins. The cardboard and ink have to go to the people who print the labels, before they go to the people who make the tins.

"It's a massive problem at the moment right through the sector."

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency reckons we have something like 76,000 fewer drivers than we need. It warns shortages are likely to become "acute" as we near Christmas. Toys and turkeys could be in short supply, in other words. 

Jack Richards & Sons items being loaded ready for delivery at the depot in Fakenham. Picture: Matthe

A lorry being loaded at Jack Richards' deport in Fakenham. The industry is struggling to recruit enough drivers - Credit: Matthew Usher

The DVSA is simplifying procedures for taking an HGV test in a bid to tackle a backlog of learners waiting to sit it. But it warns doing so requires a change in the law, which will take time.

Mr Purslow said even if hauliers could train more drivers, they would not be able to examine them to certify their proficiency, leaving firms at the mercy of the DVSA's backlog.

Industry leaders say the shortage has been compounded by thousands of foreign drivers heading home because of Brexit.  

They are calling for temporary visas to be created to allow them to return to our roads. 

But Mr Purslow said there was another reason why £54,000 salaries are failing to fill the driving seats. Thousands who are licensed to drive trucks for a living choose other ways to earn their crust thanks to long hours, the stresses of driving on our increasingly-congested roads and poor conditions..

"Truck stops don't exist any more," Mr Purslow said. "Motorway services charge us huge amounts of money to park overnight but they've got the worst facilities - dirty toilets, filthy showers. Drivers have to find a layby with all that means for their personal hygiene.

"Welcome to the world of trucking: Here's a nice new uniform, here's a nice new lorry - oh, and here's a plastic bottle to use for a toilet. No wonder drivers are just turning their backs on the industry."

* We are running a series of special reports mover the next few days on the shortage crisis and the impact on the region and its people. 




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