Busting Another Remain. Myth. HGV Drivers.

Graham Charles Lear
7 min readSep 2, 2021


I publish Government and global industry facts, demolishing yet another Remainer myth

In recent weeks some elements of the media and social media in the United Kingdom have seized on the shortage of HGV drivers as being proof of another kind of ‘Brexit apocalypse’. In this article, I present the facts which I have obtained from the Government and from major transport organisations.

Government and industry association information about driver shortages

Large Goods Vehicle tests dropped by nearly 43,000 since Mar 2020, when COVID struck

CPC tests (needed by professional truck drivers) dropped by 98% (Q1 2020 compared to Q1 2021)

Only 48 CPC tests were conducted in the first three months of this year

The government is recruiting 27 new examiners to speed up the process

The global situation is not any better — there are driver shortages almost everywhere

Truck driver shortages globally expected to increase by 25%+ this year, says International Road Transport Union

GERMANY was already reporting 45,000 vacancies back in 2018, says British International Freight Association

№1 reason for driver shortage was ‘drivers retiring’, according to (UK) Road Haulage Association survey in July

I started by looking at the raw data available from official Government sources and I begin with this. I reviewed the detailed data from the Dept of Transport’s ‘Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), who are responsible for certificating drivers of what used to be called HGVs.

Specifically, I analysed the number of LGV tests (‘Large Goods Vehicle’ is the new definition for HGV and buses) and, critically, at the number of CPC tests. Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) test passes are required in addition to Large Goods Vehicle (LGV) tests in order to drive professionally, i.e. as the main purpose of one’s job.

In the first three months of this year (Jan-Mar 2021) a grand total of 48 CPC tests had been conducted by the DVSA. 43 drivers passed, making an average of just 14 new drivers per month — and some of these will have been bus and coach drivers.

One of the factors involved in the plans to increase HGV tests is the ongoing industrial action being taken by members of the Public and Commercial Services Union at DVLA, who are unhappy with Covid-safety measures. To quote the PCS: “Our action to date has had a huge impact on the backlogs at the DVLA”. This looks set to continue and is of course unhelpful at a time when all applications should be processed as quickly as possible. Instead, the DVLA’s website asks people not to chase them, despite the delays. WHO KNEW ABOUT THAT?

Meanwhile, two weeks ago the Government announced the recruitment of 40 extra examiners to address driver shortages. I TOOK A look at the recruitment documents and in reality, only 27 new roles are being advertised — one-third of the 40 are not additions to DVSA staff, merely existing employees transferring from other duties,

Roads Minister Baroness Vere said:

“Our HGV drivers provide a vital service delivering food, medicine and other vital goods to where they’re needed. That’s why we’re committed to working with industry to address the shortage of drivers and have unveiled a package of robust measures.”

The problem of driver shortages is not a UK phenomenon — it’s global

1. The IRU — Truck driver shortages in 2021 are expected to increase by over 25% worldwide

The International Road Transport Union (IRU) is the voice of more than 3.5 million companies operating mobility and logistics services in over 100 countries. Here is the IRU in June this year, following a member survey:-

“Truck driver shortages are expected to increase in 2021 by over a quarter on 2020 levels in almost all of the 23 countries surveyed in IRU’s recent global survey of road transport firms.

“Gaps are set to increase at a much higher rate in some countries, including by 150% in Spain, 175% in Mexico and 192% in Turkey… Almost 40% of road transport operators surveyed cite skills gaps as the number one cause of driver shortages, in markets as diverse as the Czech Republic, Norway and Romania to Russia, Ukraine and Mexico.”

“As we look beyond the pandemic, many operators will find it impossible to find drivers to meet future customer demand.”

2. British International Freight Association (BIFA) — European shortage of drivers reported in 2018

With some 1500 members, BIFA represents organisations engaged in the movement of freight to/from the UK by all modes of transport: air, road, sea and rail. Some members are also provided customs clearance and other cross border services.

Back in 2018 (before Brexit took place), BIFA cited the European Road Freight Transport report 2018, showing that in just six countries — the UK, Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden and Norway — the shortage of drivers added up to 127,500.

“The UK led the way with a shortage of 52,000 drivers, but was closely followed by Germany at 45,000 vacancies — with predictions that this could increase by a staggering 28,000 each year.

“France had a shortage of 20,000 drivers, while road freight associations in Sweden, Denmark and Norway reported shortages of 5,000, 2,500 and 3,000, respectively.”

And this was all in 2018, well ahead of Brexit. Since then, further industry intelligence reports have shown the driver shortages in the major EU countries to have risen dramatically. Some of the latest studies show shortages of over 400,000 drivers in the EU27.

3. The (UK) Road Haulage Association

In July this year (2021), the RHA conducted a survey about driver shortages. The №1 reason given by the respondents was ‘drivers retiring’ (58.54%). The RHA also made it clear that there has been a problem in the industry for years.

“Prior to the pandemic, [and therefore — Ed.] we estimated a shortage in excess of 60,000. At that time UK road transport businesses employed approximately 600,000 HGV drivers, including 60,000 from EU member states”

As part of the survey, the RHA also asked about the current impact of driver shortages: “On an average day last week, what proportion of your fleet was idle because there was no driver available?”

Almost two-thirds (65%) stated the proportion of their fleet that was idle due to driver shortages was below 10%. Whilst there are undoubtedly driver shortages if this survey is right then the problem needs to be seen in proportion.

The RHA also highlighted the problems caused by HMRC’s new tax treatment of self-employed drivers, under what is called ‘IR35’ rules. This has caused drivers to leave the industry.

“The large hauliers say that IR35 is the main reason for the current driver shortage crisis.”

- RHA Report on the Driver Shortage, 21 Jul 2021

So, not all about Brexit then…FAR FROM IT

Once again, a sober look at the facts shows that the Remainer hysteria about Brexit causing a collapse in the availability of drivers in the United Kingdom is wildly exaggerated.

Firstly, according to the Road Haulage Association (RHA), only 60,000 out of 600,000 HGV drivers came from the EU. Secondly, many of these returned home because of COVID, not Brexit. As the RHA said in July this year: “Many drivers returned to their country of origin during extended periods of lockdown and restricted travel. The vast majority have not yet returned.”

Even more importantly, there are numerous reasons for the shortage of HGV drivers, not the least of which is the lack of new drivers being trained and the unattractiveness of the profession to young people because of historically low wages and the conditions under which they are forced to operate these days.

Thanks to COVID-19, there is a huge backlog of HGV drivers waiting to take their courses and tests. With a drop of almost 43,000 new drivers taking their test since Covid struck, it is hardly surprising that the industry is feeling the pinch.

Finally, as my research demonstrates, there is a shortage of HGV drivers worldwide, including in EU countries such as Germany and France. This problem is not confined to the United Kingdom.

What can be done about this?

It seems clear that the Government needs to act. For the number of HGV tests to drop so dramatically, and for the number of CPC competence certificates (allowing HGV drivers to work) to drop by 98% in one year is a scandal.

One of the other major factors is already being addressed by market forces. Wages now appear to be rising across the industry, in response to the shortage of drivers. This in turn will lead to more young drivers wishing to take the place of those who are retiring — but only if the Government sorts out the driver testing system.

In the short term, I suggest that the Treasury and HMRC be leaned on to provide transitional relief in respect of the new IR35 regulations. This could be done as an exceptional case for drivers and it should offer a pause rather than a deferred payment scheme.

All countries need to keep goods moving. Most countries are suffering from the same problem as the UK. I welcome the increase in wages for drivers but the Government must do their bit by getting HGV testing centres going again and by some form of transitional relief on tax.

Finally, it is good to see that more haulage companies are once again investing in training the British drivers of the future. It's ABOUT TIME and they should not have been so shortsighted in the first place.

Sources: Dept of Transport | Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency | DVLA | International Road Transport Union | British International Freight Association | Road Haulage Association



Graham Charles Lear

What is life without a little controversy in it? Quite boring and sterile would be my answer.