Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. New Statesman A-Z of 2021
16 December 2021

H is for HGV drivers: Empty shelves and petrol panic as Covid-19 and Brexit caused a trucker shortage

A gap of 100,000 lorry drivers led to a drop in supplies from Nando’s chicken to McDonald’s milkshakes.

By Anoosh Chakelian

Would you be up for sleeping in a layby, breathing in fumes all day and urinating in a bottle for £70,000 a year and a £2,000 “golden hello”? Some logistics companies clearly thought so, as this was the deal they were reportedly touting around greasy spoons in desperation as a lack of truckers nearly brought Britain to a standstill in the autumn.

The combination of a global surge in demand as the pandemic eased, suspended HGV testing during the lockdowns, and the return of EU workers to their home countries led to a national shortage of 100,000 lorry drivers by September.

As some HGV drivers found themselves with 40 per cent pay rises overnight, the rest of the country wasn’t doing quite as well out of the crisis, with the supply chain bottleneck being felt across industries – from petrol to McDonald’s milkshakes, and Nando’s chicken to the chemicals needed to clean water… Not to mention any Christmas dinner staple that journalists could think of to ask food and drink trade bodies about.

A global gas shortage pushing up fuel bills, empty supermarket shelves and queues at forecourts very quickly spelt a winter crisis for Boris Johnson, who attempted to make a virtue of it – shrugging that this was merely the painful transition to a high-skill, high-wage economy post-Brexit.

Businesses weren’t buying it, and 5,000 visas were offered for foreign drivers to come over and fill the gap. They didn’t prove particularly popular, however, with just 20 issued by mid-October. In the words of one Dutch trade union boss: “The EU workers that we speak to will not go to the UK for a short-term visa to help UK out of the shit they created themselves.”

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Find the other entries in the New Statesman A-Z of 2021 here.

Content from our partners
The green transition can unlock 40,000 new businesses and £175bn
Building the business case for growth
“On supporting farmers, McDonald’s sets a high standard”

Topics in this article :