Supermarket pay compounding driver shortfall, says expert

Grocers recruiting lorry drivers by offering higher wages will cause a shortage of hauliers needed for deliveries to schools and prisons, MPs have been warned.

The risk posed by the government’s refusal to back retailers’ demands for a European driver visa was discussed at the UK Trade and Business Commission.

The group, made up of MPs and business representatives, was formed in February by anti-Brexit campaign group Best for Britain.

“Some of the drivers in other fleets, like delivering to schools, prisons and wholesalers, will be gravitating towards our chains,” British Retail Consortium (BRC) food director Andrew Opie said.

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He told The Times the move was “great for us and our consumers but probably not great for the economy”.

With a national shortage of some 100,000 HGV drivers, a number of supermarkets are offering recruits four-figure bonuses.

Waitrose is paying hauliers up to £53,870 a year, more than some of its head office executives.

Iceland managing director Richard Walker said its drivers could earn £950 a shift.

“Even a junior banker might start to feel tempted,” he added.

Retailers believe the backlog of lorry driver tests, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, means that shoppers will face gaps on shelves and higher costs without a visa scheme.

However, Opie claimed it was “too early” to predict whether there would be food shortages at Christmas.

“Our members that we’re speaking to are not anticipating major problems,” he said.

“But they are also saying that… it’s really difficult to keep their head above water and maximise what for many businesses is that crucial period in the run up to Christmas.

“It’s challenging at the moment and we’re expecting it to get much more challenging over the next few months.”

Earlier this week, BRC boss Helen Dickinson said that disruption had been “limited” so far, but could intensify later in the year.

“In the run-up to Christmas the situation could get worse, and customers may see reduced choice and increased prices,” she said.

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