Though business groups generally welcomed the government’s move, some expressed doubt that it would be sufficient. The government’s reversal also comes after the hauling and logistics industries in Britain pleaded with lawmakers to ease restrictions on visas for drivers from the European Union. Logistics U.K., a trade group, had sought 10,000 seasonal visas for drivers, similar to a program for farm workers.
“While we welcome the visa scheme to allow H.G.V. drivers from abroad to help temporarily fill domestic shortages in food and fuel logistics, the limit of 5,000 visas will do little to alleviate the current shortfall,” said Andrew Opie, the director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, a trade association, referring to drivers of heavy goods vehicles.
“Supermarkets alone have estimated they need at least 15,000 H.G.V. drivers for their businesses to be able to operate at full capacity ahead of Christmas and avoid disruption or availability issues,” he added in a statement.
Until this weekend, the government had resisted the option of issuing more visas. Instead, it increased the allowable number of hours a driver could work each day, and it has proposed recruitment initiatives.
In his statement, Mr. Shapps, the transport secretary, argued that the long-term solution lay with British employers. “We are acting now,” he said, “but the industries must also play their part with working conditions continuing to improve and the deserved salary increases continuing to be maintained in order for companies to retain new drivers.”
The Road Haulage Association, which represents the British road transportation industry, has estimated that there is a shortage of 100,000 drivers. “Ninety-five percent of everything we get in Britain comes on the back of a truck,” Rod McKenzie, the association’s director of policy, said recently.