Ministers will expand a fast-track scheme to allow up to 5000 people to be trained as HGV drivers to alleviate the supply chain crisis.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said on Sunday that 2000 additional places would be opened up through “skills bootcamps” to boost the number of lorry drivers.
However, the free courses lasting up to 16 weeks will not start until next month, meaning they will do nothing to alleviate concerns about shortages this Christmas.
Labour said the new drivers trained under the scheme would be a “drop in the ocean” compared to what is required.
READ MORE: Food shortages are good news, says Tory MP
About one in six adults in Britain have been unable to buy essential food items in the last fortnight, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The figure was nearly as high as a quarter for non-essential food items, with a lack of lorry drivers partly to blame for shortages after Brexit cut off a supply of labour from the EU.
With the courses backed by £17 million, the government pledged that trainees who pass will be guaranteed a job interview with a local employer.
But, the first fully-trained HGV drivers will not be “road ready” until February, Downing Street acknowledged.
Places will be offered to drivers who want to return to the profession or upgrade their licence to transport dangerous goods such as fuel, as well as to newcomers.
Army tanker drivers have also been deployed to help fill petrol stations hit by fuel shortages.
With ministers announcing last month that 3000 people would be able to train to become HGV drivers under the scheme, the latest announcement brings the total to 5000.
“To help more people into the industry, we’re expanding our skills bootcamps offer to support 5000 people to gain the skills they need to be road ready, and to help those with previous experience refresh their skills so they can get back on the road,” Zahawi said.
A further 1000 people are expected to be trained through local schemes funded by the government’s education budget.
Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon added: “This is a drop in the ocean and it’s clear the government is either unwilling or unable to grasp the scale of the challenge facing Christmas.
“The industry has warned that for Christmas food deliveries alone, an extra 15,000 drivers will be needed – not to mention the colossal gap ministers have already failed to plan for or properly address.
“If the Prime minister does not treat this crisis with the seriousness that is required and show real ambition in tackling it, working people will continue to pay the price with rising costs, rocketing energy bills and bare shelves this winter.”
with PA Wires