Iceland’s managing director has claimed the government is not “willing to listen” to warnings about Britain’s lorry driver crisis.
Richard Walker said ministers were “mad” to resist industry calls for a European visa to tackle the shortfall of 100,000 hauliers.
“There’s a very simple solution actually, which is… to add HGV drivers to the skilled worker lists,” he told Sky News.
Walker noted that ballerinas and musicians could get into the country, but not hauliers, “who have literally been keeping the show on the road through the pandemic”.
“I think it’s madness,” he said.
Business minister Kwasi Kwarteng has dismissed retailers’ entreaties for a driver visa scheme, arguing that firms should train British workers instead.
However, experts point out there is a backlog of HGV licence tests from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Walker argued that hiring UK drivers was “absolutely the right way to go, but that’s going to take time that will take anywhere between six and nine months.”
“We have Christmas between now and then,” he said.
Sources have identified the festive season, when demand traditionally soars, as a potential powder-keg for the supply chain.
British Retail Consortium boss Helen Dickinson this week said that disruption had been limited, “but in the run-up to Christmas the situation could get worse.”
“Customers may see reduced choice and increased prices,” she claimed.
Walker believes the rise in driver wages to attract new recruits means price hikes are “inevitable”.
“We’ve done double-digit wage increases now across our depots, and I think that that will lead to inflation in the market,” he said.
The Iceland boss recently claimed some of its drivers were earning £950 a shift, or £250,000 a year.