Too little too late from Government when it comes to current worker shortages
The continuing fuel supply crisis has alerted the public to the problem of HGV driver shortages. What's particularly concerning is that this crisis did not come out of the blue and nor is the road haulage sector the only one struggling to fill vacancies.
Speaking to BBC Surrey Radio on Monday this week I highlighted the fact that the worker shortage was entirely predictable, Boris Johnson's Conservative Government has been fully aware of it for many months and yet they failed to act on this, thus leaving the public to suffer their lives being thrown into turmoil yet again. (You can listen to my interview here.) However, I wanted to share in more detail about this issue as many people will not be aware of the full extent of the worker shortage problem.
As I outlined in my interview, the Conservative Government has been aware of the potential HGV driver issue for months, even meeting with industry leaders in June who came armed with a list of potential fixes including temporary visas to recruit overseas HGV drivers; action to clear the covid-19 driving test backlog; and extended driver hours. However, only last week did the Government respond and accept industry suggestions to address the shortages.
Once again, rather than acting promptly and decisively to get ahead of a potential crisis the Conservative government dragged its feet and was then forced to make another u-turn. Alongside this choice to ignore the problem and only react just in time, they have tried throughout the crisis to pass the blame onto the public, business, the EU - in fact, to anyone except themselves.
But the national shortage of 100,000 HGV drivers is not the only one. In fact, there are currently also shortages of:
- Skilled butchers/abattoir workers - This has already resulted in chicken shortages, most famously at Nandos and KFC but more widely this will impact Christmas staples such as turkeys and pigs in blankets. This week pig farmers have indicated that they have had to start destroying healthy pigs which will lead to big financial losses for them; pork products not entering the food chain potentially causing shortages; and may mean farmers are unable to invest the necessary funds in next year's herd of pigs.
- Hospitality staff - The number of chef jobs rose 62 per cent between Feb 2020 (the month before lockdown began) and July this year according to the website Caterer.com. The majority of these vacancies are in the South East.
- Care workers - In September the National Care Association warned that care homes across England are facing a staffing black hole of 170,000 (equivalent to 10% of posts)
- NHS staff - Estimates are that there is a shortage of 50,000 nurses and 3,000 midwives
Now many, including the Government, will try and tell you that these shortages have nothing to do with Brexit and it is true that we had shortages before we left the EU. However, those shortages would have been far greater if it were not for the fact that traditionally these shortages have been addressed by employing overseas, predominantly EU, nationals. Our exit from the EU has made the UK less attractive as a destination to EU nationals looking for work, plus coming here for employment purposes has become more difficult thanks to increasing Government bureaucracy. At the same time, UK workers have not been brought into these sectors in the numbers needed to address worker shortages - the reasons why vary from industry to industry but nonetheless this, combined with EU workers returning to the EU, has created a perfect storm.
As a party, the Liberal Democrats are clear that the Government needs to start taking responsibility for this mess instead of blaming everyone but themselves.
We called on them (several days before they finally listened) to bring in the army to drive tankers (protocols put in place by the Lib Dems when in Coalition Government), extend the time that non-UK HGV drivers can work here and prioritise NHS and care workers for fuel while the fuel crisis continues.
In terms of the other sectors, the Government needs to put aside their Brexit-fueled 'we can make it on our own' rhetoric and recognise that welcoming EU and other foreign nationals to the UK to work is a crucial part of enabling our economy and society to thrive. As for addressing care worker shortages, alongside recognising the important role of immigration in staffing our hospitals and care homes, the Conservatives would do well to reflect on why the health sector struggles to recruit and retain staff. Could it be as a result of the shameful hourly rate that those who care for our loved ones earn? Could it be the lack of value placed on the crucial work they do? I say it is unquestionably both. NHS and care staff deserve to be paid fair wages that recognise the essential work they do, and yet earlier this year the Conservatives offered nurses an insulting 3% pay rise.
Yet again the Conservative Government is slow to act, quick to pass the blame and fails to understand the impact its poor decision-making has on the British public. These issues are not going to go away whilst Boris Johnson and the Conservatives stick their fingers in their ears and pretend to not know about them or that they even exist, so we must expect things to get worse until they decide to join the real world and sort these growing worker shortages out.