How many more HGV drivers does the UK need?

28 September 2021
What was claimed

We are short by 100,000 lorry drivers.

Our verdict

This figure hasn’t been fully evidenced. It is based on the assumption that there was already a shortage of 60,000 before the pandemic. There are 30,000 fewer lorry drivers now than in the year before the pandemic.

“There are 100,000 vacancies for drivers.”

“If you look at, for example, the distribution to petrol stations, the shortage of drivers is a much, much smaller number, 100, 200, 300.”

Incidents of petrol stations running out of fuel in recent days have prompted debate about the reasons behind the apparent shortage.

Ministers and oil companies have stressed there is enough fuel in total across the UK. But there is a debate about the extent to which shortages at petrol stations can be blamed on panic buying, or on a shortage of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers to deliver enough fuel from refineries and terminals.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps downplayed the idea that driver shortages are a cause of pumps running dry, claiming the shortage of fuel tanker drivers specifically was only in the low hundreds. 

Either way, the story has brought to the fore the wider issue of HGV driver shortages which have disrupted supermarket supplies over the summer, though people can’t agree on how large the driver shortage is.

It’s been claimed in recent days by Labour leader Keir Starmer, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, and others, that there is a shortage of 100,000 HGV drivers in the UK.

As reported by BBC Radio 4’s More or Less, that number was calculated by the trade body the Road Haulage Association (RHA), by adding up: 

  • How many fewer people passed their HGV licence test in 2020/21 compared to 2019/20 (25,000)
  • How many fewer EU national HGV drivers there are now than in 2019 (this depends on which precise periods you compare between, but is around 15,000-19,000)
  • What the RHA claims was an existing shortage of 60,000 drivers from 2019

However, the BBC said that the RHA didn’t provide much detail as to how that initial 60,000 shortage was calculated, only mentioning the use of industry vacancy data and lorry numbers.

When Full Fact asked the RHA directly about the figure, it wasn't able to explain why it had estimated the historic shortage at that level. It told Full Fact it estimated this historic level at 50,000 drivers in 2015, but couldn’t explain the figure further.

Reports put the shortage down to a number of factors. There is evidence that the pandemic and Brexit led to EU workers leaving the UK, many of whom have not returned. Covid-19 also reduced the number of HGV driving tests that could be conducted and drivers, like all workers, are still at risk of being required to self-isolate if they contract the disease. 

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that, whatever the shortage before the pandemic, the number of large goods vehicle drivers fell around 10%, or 30,000, between 2019/20 and 2020/21.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph has reported the government as saying the shortage is more like 30,000. We asked the Department for Transport (DfT) if it recognised that figure but it didn’t confirm or deny the estimate.

We also asked for more detail about Mr Shapps’ figure that the UK is short by only a few hundred fuel tanker drivers specifically. The DfT told us it couldn’t provide any more detail on the number as it was commercially sensitive.

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