Pwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig

Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee

09/12/2021

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Hefin David AS
Luke Fletcher AS
Paul Davies AS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Samuel Kurtz AS
Sarah Murphy AS
Vikki Howells AS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Chris Yarsley Logistics UK
Logistics UK
Dr Andrew Potter Sefydliad Siartredig Logisteg a Thrafnidiaeth (DU) Cymru
Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK) Wales
Mary Williams Unite the Union
Unite the Union
Paul Slevin Chambers Wales
Chambers Wales
Pete Robertson Ffederasiwn Bwyd a Diod Cymru
Food and Drink Federation Cymru
Sally Gilson Cymdeithas Cludiant Ffyrdd
Road Haulage Association

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Aled Evans Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Lara Date Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Robert Donovan Clerc
Clerk
Robert Lloyd-Williams Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 10:02.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 10:02.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Croeso, bawb, i'r cyfarfod hwn o Bwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig. Dydyn ni ddim wedi derbyn unrhyw ymddiheuriadau y bore yma. A oes yna unrhyw fuddiannau yr hoffai Aelodau eu datgan o gwbl? Sarah.

A very warm welcome to this meeting of the Senedd Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee. We've not received any apologies for this morning's meeting. Are there any declarations of interest that Members would like to make? Sarah. 

Yes, I need to declare, mostly for the third panel, that I'm a member of Unite the Union. 

2. Papurau i'w nodi
2. Paper(s) to note

Symudwn ni ymlaen, felly, i eitem 2, sef papurau i'w nodi. Rŷn ni wedi derbyn llythyr gan Gadeirydd y Pwyllgor Deddfwriaeth, Cyfiawnder a'r Cyfansoddiad at y Cwnsler Cyffredinol a Gweinidog y Cyfansoddiad ynglŷn â fframweithiau cyffredin. Rŷn ni wedi derbyn llythyr gan y Cwnsler Cyffredinol a Gweinidog y Cyfansoddiad at Gadeirydd y Pwyllgor Deddfwriaeth, Cyfiawnder a'r Cyfansoddiad ynglŷn â fframweithiau cyffredin. Rŷn ni wedi derbyn llythyr gan y Gweinidog Materion Gwledig a Gogledd Cymru, a'r Trefnydd yn rhoi gwybodaeth ychwanegol yn dilyn cyfarfod y pwyllgor ar 21 Hydref. Rŷn ni wedi derbyn llythyr gan y Gweinidog Materion Gwledig a Gogledd Cymru, a'r Trefnydd ynglŷn â'r cyd-ddatganiad pysgodfeydd. Rŷn ni wedi derbyn llythyr gan y Gweinidog Materion Gwledig a Gogledd Cymru, a'r Trefnydd ynglŷn â'r Rheoliadau Adnoddau Dŵr (Rheoli Llygredd Amaethyddol) (Cymru) 2021, ac fe welwch chi gopi o fy llythyr i at y Gweinidog Materion Gwledig a Gogledd Cymru, a'r Trefnydd ynglŷn â'r rheoliadau adnoddau dŵr. Rŷn ni wedi derbyn llythyr oddi wrth Undeb Cenedlaethol yr Amaethwyr Cymru ynglŷn ag adolygiad o'r rheoliadau adnoddau dŵr; ac rydyn ni wedi derbyn llythyr arall oddi wrth Undeb Cenedlaethol yr Amaethwyr Cymru gyda gwybodaeth ychwanegol yn dilyn cyfarfod y pwyllgor ar 11 Tachwedd.

Ynglŷn â llythyr Dylan Morgan o NFU Cymru, sef papur 2.7, byddaf yn ymateb maes o law, a bydd yr ymateb hwnnw'n cael ei gynnwys fel papur i'w nodi yng nghyfarfod nesaf y pwyllgor. A oes unrhyw faterion yr hoffai Aelodau eu codi o'r papurau yma o gwbl? Nac oes.

We'll move on to item 2, papers to note. We've received a letter from the Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee to the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution on common frameworks. We've also received a letter from the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution to the Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee on common frameworks again. We've received a letter from the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd providing additional information following the committee meeting on 21 October. We've received a letter from the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd on the joint fisheries statement. We've received a letter from the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd on the Water Resources (Control of Agricultural Pollution) (Wales) Regulations 2021, and you'll see a copy of my letter to the Minister for rural affairs and north Wales on the water resources regulations. We've also received a letter from the National Farmers Union Wales on the review of water resources regulations; and we've received another letter from the National Farmers Union Cymru with additional information following the committee meeting on 11 November.

In relation to the letter from Dylan Morgan from NFU Cymru, which is paper 2.7, I will be responding in due time, and that response will be included as a paper to note on the agenda of our next committee meeting. Are there any issues that Members would like to raise from these papers? No. 

3. Diffyg gyrwyr cerbydau nwyddau trwm a phroblemau â’r gadwyn gyflenwi - Sefydliadau Logisteg a Chludo Nwyddau
3. HGV Driver Shortage and Supply Chain Issues inquiry - Logistics & Haulage Organisations

Symudwn ni ymlaen, felly, i eitem 3, sef ein hymchwiliad undydd i ddiffyg gyrwyr cerbydau nwyddau trwm a phroblemau â'r gadwyn gyflenwi. Dyma'r gyntaf o dair sesiwn dystiolaeth yn ein hymchwiliad, a byddwn ni'n cymryd tystiolaeth gan sefydliadau logisteg a chludo nwyddau. A gaf i felly groesawu'r tystion i'r sesiwn yma, a gaf i ofyn iddyn nhw nawr i gyflwyno'u hunain i'r record ac wedyn gallwn ni symud yn syth ymlaen i gwestiynau? Ac felly, os caf i ofyn yn gyntaf i Sally Gilson.

So, we will move on to item 3, which is our one-day inquiry into the HGV driver shortage and supply chain issues. This is the first of three evidence sessions in our inquiry, and we will be taking evidence from logistics and haulage. So, may I welcome our witnesses, and if I could ask you to introduce yourselves for the record and then we will move immediately to questions? So, if we could start with Sally Gilson.

10:05

I'm Sally Gilson. I'm the skills and driver policy lead at the Road Haulage Association.

I'm Andrew Potter. I'm the chair of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport Cymru Wales, and also professor of transport and logistics at Cardiff University.

Good morning. Chris Yarsley, policy manager for Wales for Logistics UK.

Thank you very much indeed for those introductions and perhaps I can kick off with the first question. Perhaps all three of you would be kind enough to perhaps outline the current situation regarding the HGV driver shortage and its impact on supply chains, on businesses, and indeed on customers. So, perhaps I can start with Sally Gilson.

Yes. So, I'll start off with a little bit of good news: things have eased a little bit. We're certainly getting a little bit more of a positive response when we're asking our members how things are. But generally speaking, goods are taking longer. So, although we're still seeing some shortages on the shelves, these are short-term shortages, so where goods might have taken one to two days to be delivered, it's more sort of like three to five, and that's because obviously there just aren't quite enough drivers for the vehicles, so our members still have a considerable number of vehicles parked up, which obviously is an expensive thing for them to be doing, because they need these vehicles out on the road. And it's also stopping expansion, so obviously, the economy's opened up quite quickly after COVID, and there are quite a number of businesses that really want to be taking advantage of that, and it's really caused issues for our members, that and not just a shortage of drivers, but also a shortage of vehicles, and the purchase of vehicles has also been delayed.

But generally speaking, I think we've probably all experienced those shortages; we've all been into a supermarket and not been able to buy the product perhaps that we wanted, and I think that's going to continue for a little while, but we're always going to be able to buy a product. And I think that's the big change, that perhaps you're not seeing the same variety that you've seen in the past.

Like I said, things are starting to ease a little bit; there has been a huge amount of work by logistics companies to try and get more people back into the sector, and train up new staff, so we're starting to see those green shoots, but it's going to take a little while. The driver shortage isn't just for Christmas. [Laughter.]

Okay. I think I would echo everything Sally said there in terms of the driver shortage and how there are signs of recovery in terms of the number of drivers in the industry. I think if you're looking at the wider implications, I think we're still seeing impacts beyond just the delivery of products and goods. Certainly our members have reported issues with things like waste deliveries, because drivers have left from refuse collection and gone into the commercial industry instead, and also on the bus industry as well, they're still—although again, the issues are easing, there are still issues with bus driver supply, again where drivers have left the bus industry because there are better wages on offer for the logistics side. So, our members are still seeing shortages beyond the more commercial supply chains that we often think about when it comes to the haulage industry.

I think the other thing that we're seeing as well is not just this sort of trying to address the shortage of drivers, but also looking at trying to reduce the demand for freight transport as well. Across the UK, we've seen a growth in the amount of products being moved by rail freight, and a number of new flows have started, and whilst none of those have actually come to Wales on sort of new flows, I think it's fairly safe to say that the existing rail freight that is in Wales is making good use of the capacity that's available, and if you take for instance Tesco, who have a service into south Wales every day, they're very much of the view that if it wasn't for their rail freight network, they wouldn't have been able to get through this driver shortage. So, I think we are seeing improvements and the situation getting better, but there are still areas where things can improve.

10:10

Yes, thank you. We launched this week our skills and employment report 2021, so I'll make a copy available to the committee for your own records. But, yes, the headline figures from our report do match up. We are seeing easing of the crisis. There's still a shortage, but the crisis is starting to ease. Some of the headline figures were that the number of drivers fell by 72,000 from Q2 2019 to Q2 this year, and about a third of new HGV drivers did leave the industry since Q2 2019. So we are still fighting our way through that problem, but the increases in licence acquisition and the increasing of HGV driver tests have actually started to turn the tanker around slowly, and we are starting to see companies respond more favourably and have a much more positive outlook in the future.

A number of issues do still remain. Pay has been one of the triggers that companies, if they have been able to, have used. We see average pay has gone up around 10 per cent in the nine months to October, but that's the average—there'll be companies who'll be paying a lot more. But then Andrew did make the point that we are fishing in the same pool, so drivers have been moving from industry to industry. We have in our membership a lot of local authorities in Wales, and they've made it very clear that they are seeing extreme pressures on retaining their drivers, because they can't fight the pay competition. They are restricted in the public sector pay scales, so they can't increase driver pay to the amount that some other private companies are doing, so they have genuine concerns for garbage disposal. Gritting in the winter is also one that's been raised in future, if they lose those drivers to companies that can pay more.

But I'll leave it there. So, green shoots are appearing. We're hoping that the acute situation will ease, and I will send the committee through the full report that we've issued that came out this week.

Yes, please do that. That will be very helpful, thank you. If I can now bring in Hefin David to ask a question. Hefin.

Yes, I think Chris and Andrew, actually, have started talking about measures that are being introduced in the short term to alleviate these problems. Is there anything else that the panel would like to say about measures that are being taken to alleviate the problem? Can you hear me all right?

Yes. I can start. One of the triggers of the acute crisis was the fact that COVID shut down testing for most of last year, so we've had to work very closely with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency in terms of reorganising how drivers get tested and are able then to get onto the roads. So, we have been liaising with them over the last couple of months about the changes to the testing that have now come through. So, you have the removal of the reversing element of the test; this is getting a bit technical, but that has gone now to training providers. So, what we've done is we've basically freed up the amount of tests that DVSA testers can do, and we are seeing that they're up by 25 per cent in Q3 this year compared to Q3 2019. So, more drivers, or more applicants, are able to apply for a driving test this time compared to in 2019. Provisional tests are up threefold, and renewable applications have risen by 25 per cent. So, what we're saying is that what we've been doing with DVSA in terms of trying to increase the pool of drivers, we are now starting to see positive developments there, for example. That is one example.

Andrew, do you want to add anything further? Or Sally, you were first. Go on, you go ahead.

Okay. I won't completely repeat Chris, but I think there has been an increase in the number of tests, but I would just be a little bit cautious in comparing Q3 2019 to Q3 2021, because obviously during 2020, and it actually ran into April 2021, there were hardly any tests happening. So, it has created this massive backlog. So, obviously, those numbers are going to be skewed because there's been a lot of people waiting, especially those who were doing apprenticeships. They normally would have quite a fixed schedule of when they'd be doing their tests. We'll look at the next quarter as well, and if those numbers continue to increase, I think that would be really positive. It's great that the number of testers has gone up, so we do have more HGV examiners, but they've also had problems because, of course, those people have HGV licences. So, I know the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency are trying their hardest to make sure they retain all their examiners.

So, the practical test has been much improved, but the waiting lists have continued to increase for doing the other parts of the HGV driver tests: you've got the practical, you've got case studies that you need to do, and the hazard perception and theory. And during this time, the booking system got changed with DVSA, and that booking system is causing quite a few issues for training providers, because you now have to book everything at the same time and that's not how a lot of training providers work. It's not how a lot of businesses work in terms of organising the tests. They tend to try and get, obviously, the hazard perception and the theory done, that's ticked off the list, and then they would do the next part of the training, especially if you're working to an apprenticeship programme.

So, there have been a lot of positives, but we're not quite 100 per cent there yet. In terms of some changes, I think that's something else that we've got to work through. But, generally speaking, certainly with regard to apprenticeships, because we're seeing such an increase in numbers, I think the other concern is there aren't actually many HGV driver apprenticeship training providers. It's quite a limited pool. So, because we are seeing quite an increase, I think that could also be next year's problem, that we need to try and create more apprenticeship providers that can actually do this training.

10:15

Yes, I think that'll be the subject of further questions as well. Andrew, did you want to come in? 

Yes. I think I'd agree—

Just to say, I'm thinking about what are you doing now, rather than the longer term. What's happening right now? 

I think I'm just going to build on what Sally and Chris have said. Obviously, there's the testing and although that activity is there, there are also still people waiting to get their provisional licences from the DVLA to start with. So, it's not just the testing process. The testing process is one step from the moment you decide you want to become a truck driver through to going out on the road. I think at the other end, equally, you've got to bear in mind that once you've passed your test, you've still got to have support going out on the road to start with. You're not let loose with a 44 tonne truck and sent on your way on a long run to Scotland on your own half an hour after you've finished your test. So, it is a whole process to look at, not just one particular stage of that. I think that's what I would say on the testing at the moment.

I think the other thing that we've seen as well is, obviously, the Government's eased things like visa restrictions and allowed cabotage for European hauliers to do more of that within the UK to try and help ease the shortage in the short term. But, what we've noticed is that there isn't a huge take-up of that, relative to other things. The amount of extra capacity it's brought into the sector is not huge. Whilst it's been much lauded by the UK Government as a way of trying to solve the problem, the actual uptake has been relatively small.

Thank you, Hefin. If I can now bring in Sarah Murphy to ask a question. Sarah. 

Thank you, Chair. I'm going to ask a little bit about the retention of drivers. I'm probably not the only person who knows somebody who has a licence who has had one of those letters, saying, 'You have a licence, do you want to come back in?' to try to help with the shortage. But, specifically, we've seen it in the written evidence and we also heard from the citizen engagement interviews, and, to be honest, it sounds pretty grim. We had a range of issues, starting with things like a lack of parking and how stressful that can be, meaning that people go over their hours and then have to pay sometimes for that. We heard about the hours. Sometimes, the employers are pushing them to do the 60 hours instead of 48 hours, which is physically and mentally demanding. And then we also came onto the safety, so people are finding that when they're sleeping, when they're having breaks, that there's vandalism. That makes them feel very unsafe. And on top of that, there's the cost. So, they have to do these drivers' certificates every five years, £500 to £1,000, and they pay that themselves. And finally, the pay itself. Some of them feel like it's no more than minimum wage, once you really get down to it. So, with all of that, the feedback we got from the citizen engagement was that many drivers feel, 'What's the point? It's a risk to my safety, if I'm physically and mentally exhausted, and I could probably get more money doing something else.' So, I wanted to ask you: what is the industry doing to support and retain new drivers, when they're facing all of this? I'll come to you first, Andrew.

10:20

Okay. Yes, you're right that the job is not seen as a particularly attractive proposition for many, and all the issues that you've outlined are things that we hear regularly from truck drivers. Sitting in an office-based job, it's perhaps harder for me to completely visualise what that's like. But retention is key to dealing with the crisis, because it's all well and good training people, but if they all leave in six months' time, we're back where we started.

I think one of the things that we're particularly concerned about in the CILT is around the facilities for drivers and parking facilities. The UK Government has done a lot of work in terms of surveying sites in the UK, and it's put investment in to help develop new sites in the UK, whereas we don't have that same level of knowledge as to what's currently available in Wales; there isn't a Welsh Government survey of parking sites. And that kind of thing would be a really easy quick win for the Government to do. It wouldn't take that long to complete. You'd know where parking sites were, what facilities were there, and that as a starting point lets the industry know where those facilities are. Then, it's about taking steps to improve that, and that's where I think industry and the Government need to work together more to provide better quality facilities. I know that the UK Government has put money into sites in England, and I think we need to see similar things in Wales, because if you've got good quality parking sites, it addresses—. Yes, it addresses the eating and hygiene facilities, but it also addresses things like security as well. So, it doesn't solve all the problems, but it solves quite a few of the problems, particularly when the drivers are out on the road.

But really, though—. So, of course, thank you for that point, because that's something that I think we can definitely take forward as part of this inquiry, but let's really drill down into that. At the moment, two of the main things that drivers are saying that will make a massive difference is if there was a two-week rota instead of this 17-week block, where the industry are able to force them into doing 60-hour weeks at the beginning of that. And also, then—. So, the two-week rota. But also what they feel is that they're very much being managed by people who don't have a HGV licence. So, they're telling them that they should be able to do something that they physically cannot do. So, I take on board that there is something here that Welsh Government could do, but what could the industry do right now about forcing drivers to work too many hours and also being managed by people without HGV licences?

I think I might have to defer to either Chris or Sally on the technical point of the blocks and the 17-week averages. I'm less familiar on that side.

In terms of how we manage people, the industry is trying to change its culture generally, and I think it comes back to, like you say, seeing drivers not as the bottom of the rung and the people you can boss about, but actually as part of the overall process. And it's about changing that mindset. That will bring benefits in terms of making workers feel more valued, and also hopefully help with issues like equality and diversity as well, which I know is not the focus today, but is also a key issue. Like I say, it's about people recognising the value of logistics. I actually think that because it's become more of a shortage, I think certainly people are more aware of what the industry does, and I think it probably filters through, perhaps, to higher levels of management that perhaps don't get involved in the day-to-day stuff on the logistics, and then it can go as much from the top down as the bottom up, in effect. So, managers are seeing more value to, 'Well, we need to keep drivers—what are the issues?' and then trying to deal with them. Yes, it's still, I suppose, a managerial approach, but it is about changing that mindset, really, as much as anything.

10:25

Absolutely. Chris, did you want to come in on specifically the rotas, then, and for the management as well? Thank you, Andrew.

First, quickly, I totally subscribe to everything Andrew said about the parking. That is our No. 1 issue. We've been pushing the Department for Transport; they issued their parking survey in 2017-18 that gave a map of parking and where the pressure points are. Nothing's been done on that up until now and we are continually pressing them. And that is, as you say, rightly, one of the biggest issues that drivers have is the conditions at the roadside and we totally subscribe to anything that improves them. The Kent parking at Ashford opened up late last week—a great example; let's see that replicated across the country.

So, in terms of what drivers have been saying about being managed and driving, drivers are strictly bound by the retained EU drivers hours rules, what was Regulation (EC) No 561/2006, which sets out in law, and is managed by the tacograph, the absolute limits of driving that are permitted. Anything that goes beyond that is a serious road safety issue and can easily be detected at the roadside by DVSA enforcement and desk-based enforcement by pulling taco records that are held. So, if they are being told to go over their hours, they really do need to make somebody aware of that. But, they are managed by—. And you said that they are not necessarily being managed by somebody with an HGV licence, well, in the operating licensing rules, they are managed by their transport manager. Their transport manager is professionally competent; they have a transport manager certificate of professional competence, and the undertakings of that are that they have effective and continuous management of the fleet in terms of route management, route planning, hours, et cetera, et cetera. So, the person who does manage the fleet within a company is professionally competent under law. They probably will have a driving licence as well, an HGV or vocational licence, but they certainly do have the professional qualification to manage the drivers.

You did touch upon—. Another thing that's come up is the driver certificate of professional competence, which is this 35 hours of training over five years. Now, that is currently under review. Because of leaving the European Union, we are now free to review that law, which was a retained EU law. We are going to be talking to our members through the next period of consultation for them, so that'll be January next year when we'll be discussing with our Welsh members what they want to see. I know that DfT has issued a survey to SMEs about this. Again, it's one of those issues that drivers constantly talk about, however, our members do see this as a valued thing; you should be expected, really, to have continual professional development, and that is what the driver CPC is. The way of delivering it could change, but a lot of our members do see this as a way of professionalising and value-adding to the driver, by saying, 'Actually, we do treat you as a proper human being who needs training and this is the mechanism that does it.' So, we will continue to support the driver CPC. Maybe, the very strict way that it's applied possibly can change, but we do see there's a value to it.

Another thing we've heard from our members on the hours, for example, trying to increase the pool of labour to attract new people into the workforce. They really are having to look at how they work rotas, and maybe try and re-engineer a working day to allow for school runs, to allow for later starts to get the kids to school. So, companies are really now trying to think of how that happens and we do have some members who are really looking at the way that they are working in terms of trying to allow more people to come into the workforce who necessarily might see that as a barrier—the long days, for example.

Thank you very much, Chris. Sally, as well, if you could just help, I suppose, to drill down a little bit into—. Obviously, there are the regulations about how many hours drivers can drive and how many they can work, but many of them have said that they are frontloading that with the 60 hours at the beginning of that block. So, I was just wondering how aware you are of that. And, even though it is possible to do that, and it is within the rules, is it really within the spirit of it? It seems to be one of the major things that people are saying is really putting them off and puts a lot of stress on them. And the other question I was just going to ask, really, is if you could talk a little bit more about the wages. Thank you.

10:30

Okay. So, I'll start with the hours first. I think most people agree that nobody really wants to be working a 60-hour week, and certainly, I think, over the next couple of years, we're going to see quite a few changes to how people are going to be an HGV driver, because we have, literally, just gone through quite a crisis point, and we've really had to look at the way that things are being done. Obviously, right at this moment, we don't have enough HGV drivers, so, once we've started to build those numbers back up again, then, definitely—. It's no surprise that those members of ours who actually can try and make sure that people stick to a 45-hour week retain their drivers much better. So, RHA, 80 per cent of our membership are 15 and under vehicles. And they tend to be, obviously—. Because they're much smaller businesses, the person who is the transport manager also has a licence and will, when needs must, go out on the road and drive. So, they do have quite an understanding of what it's like out there.

Hours have definitely got to be looked at, but I think the other part of this is there's a productivity issue for our drivers at the moment, because we're all focused on HGV driver shortage, but actually there's a shortage of people in the warehouses, which means then that, when a driver arrives at a regional distribution centre, they could be sat there, in some cases, I've heard for up to four hours—just sat there waiting to either be unloaded or loaded. Well, that's also not a good use of time, because that then means that they're four hours late for their next stop, and obviously then the day is—you're not driving very much of it, but you're sat waiting, and so it just elongates the day even further. So, we've really got to look at how that can be improved, and that is something for the sector to look at as a whole and to work together, because—. It doesn't work for anybody if somebody's just parked up doing nothing.

On the facilities side of that, whilst they're parked up, quite often, they don't even have access to somewhere nice to sit; they don't have access to toilets. So, again, that's something that we've got to review as well. Because one of the things that links all of the issues that you've said, the hours, the facilities, the driver security and the pay, is a lack of respect for drivers. And I think we've not valued them generally—everybody—and they're such a key worker, and so valuable to keep the UK economy moving, that we need to start making that investment. So, it's great that we've seen the £32 million that's been announced by UK Government for facilities.

I'm not going to completely repeat everything that Chris and Andrew just said. But I found it quite surprising that there are only two truck stops within the whole of the UK that are TAPA approved. I was desperately trying to look up what TAPA stood for, but, basically, it's a security company that looks exactly at how secure sites are. There are some truck stops that just have lights, there are hardly any cameras, and, if the cameras are there, they might not be working, and I think it is this thing of security. 

If you're parked up—. Sorry. 

Sorry. Can I just ask though, in terms of the wages, I guess what's not making sense to me, right, is, if they are so valuable, if there is such a shortage, why aren't the wages reflecting that? 

So, I think, in the past year, we've seen a massive increase, as Chris said. From their report, you're looking at about 10 per cent. But, in some companies, we are seeing salaries going up to the £60,000, £70,000 mark. Clearly that's not sustainable, and it will start to level out. The salaries had to go up, and they are probably now starting to earn closer to what they should have been on. But there is a—. There's been a real issue with the fact that companies, hauliers, work to very small profit margins—so, only about a 2 per cent profit margin. So, the media reporting, to be honest, has really helped our hauliers' case for putting up and translating that increase in costs to their customers. Because everybody's seen the stuff about the shortage of drivers, so when they've turned around to their customers and said, 'Look, we actually now need to put our prices up, because we need to start paying our drivers more', they've actually had quite a good reception to that. And that's not been available in the past. So, I think, actually, a lot of the media interest in the HGV driver shortage has really helped to drive that as well. 

So, some of the salaries we've seen in the papers, if you drill down to them, perhaps they might not be quite so realistic, but, certainly, just talking to our Welsh members in particular, everybody has increased by around about that 10 per cent mark, and, you're right, they're probably now on a salary that they should have been on in the first place.

10:35

If I could quickly add—

Thank you, Sarah. No, I'd like to move on, if I may. We've got a lot of questions to get through. So, if I can ask you to be as succinct as possible. So, if I can now bring in Vikki Howells. Vikki.

Thank you, Chair. As a panel, you've already set out a whole range of useful ideas of things you'd like to see done in Wales. So, that's leading me to think: what engagement has the sector had with Welsh Government to put forward some of these ideas to date? Maybe, Sally, would you like to start on that?

I'm going to start off by saying that I've only been with the RHA since August, so I'm actually going to go back to pre-COVID, when I used to work with Chris. [Laughter.] But this is work that desperately needs to be continued. So, we had them working as cross-party associations—so, RHA, Logistics UK—and working with local training providers and Welsh Government, along with the Department for Transport, to discuss how we could improve training schemes within Wales. So, I actually think quite a bit of work's been done on that, and certainly apprenticeships have improved in Wales over the past year. I know quite a number of members who are now starting to engage in apprenticeships. The incentive payment has really helped, because it's always been quite difficult for our members to get engaged with that, because it's not been the most viable training mechanism.

But other things that we were looking into before COVID hit were other delivery options. So, apprenticeships—I absolutely love apprenticeships; I think they're a perfect way, especially for younger people, to get into the sector, but they don't fit for everyone. So, obviously, the English Government have announced the skills bootcamps, and I think, obviously, we'll wait to see how they turn out, how the pilot goes, but I think something similar to that would be really good.

Those were things we were talking about before COVID; we were also talking about working with Ministry of Defence and looking at ex-offenders—all of these different groups—the long-term unemployed. So, working across Government with the Department for Work and Pensions would be really useful and just perhaps looking at schemes that are slightly shorter, because, if you can imagine, if someone is changing their career—probably a mid-life career changer—they've got those responsibilities, they've probably got a mortgage and a family, and it's actually quite difficult to commit to an apprenticeship during that time. So, just giving those other options for training. And unfortunately, level 2 funding for training is always quite difficult to come across, and that was what we were engaging with with Government beforehand, and it's something, I think, that we need to pick back up again.

Okay. Thanks very much. You've actually answered the two subsequent questions I was going to put, to be fair. What I'll do now is roll the three questions into one, then, for Andrew and Chris and, hopefully, that will help, Chair, to speed up time as well.

So, Andrew, if I can ask you then what engagement the sector's had with Welsh Government to date, for some of your views on the skills and apprenticeships within that as well—how the Welsh Government is doing on that—and also your view on how effective the measures that have been taken by both the Welsh Government and the UK Government are to date. Sally answered all of those, so it’s easier if I put those as three questions to both yourself and to Chris then. Andrew.

10:40

Okay, I shall try and remember the three questions. I won’t put it across as passionately as Sally has, that’s for sure. I think, from a CILT perspective, we’re probably a little bit more passively involved with Welsh Government than RHA and Logistics UK. That probably reflects where the different bodies sit and how they interact with the industry more generally.

Where we have been engaging is on things like policy development. So, the CILT was involved before the Welsh transport strategy came out. There was some preliminary work done to come up with the freight component of the new Welsh transport strategy, and we were actively involved in that. We also give feedback regularly on policy documents from Welsh Government, and one of the things that we’re often very keen to highlight is the freight implications from those. So, as I say, we’re probably a bit more passive with Welsh Government than the other bodies.

In terms of apprenticeships, I think, yes, they’re a key thing that needs to be developed, I’d say, throughout the sector, obviously, for drivers, but also in warehousing and other parts of the industry as well. Because it all comes back to, I think, what was touched on earlier, about professionalising the industry and building, ultimately, a career pathway, so that you can start off, effectively, on the shop floor, and you have that opportunity, if you are motivated to do so, to go into more senior roles within team leader and then up into management that way, but giving that professionalisation to it. So, yes, we’re really supportive of the work that is going on around apprenticeships, and think that that’s a good way not just of keeping people in the industry, but making it more attractive in the future as well. Does that help?

Great. Any further comments on how effective the support from both the Welsh Government and the UK Government has been to date?

I think, as I say, it’s a blurred line with freight, because, obviously, it sits between devolved and non-devolved activities. I think, in terms of apprenticeships, I think, as Sally touched on, there’s a lot of support with Welsh Government, and pushing that forward is important, and I think you get that from UK Government as well. I think, as I say, there are more things we could do in Wales, and I think we touched on those earlier, in other areas, but I think if we can get the skills bit going, that will really help to keep people in the industry. I think the signs are there that the Government support is working in the right direction.

Great. Thank you. And finally to you as well then, Chris. [Inaudible.] 

We’ve had very good discussions and liaising with Welsh Government, Welsh Government officials. They have attended our meetings of our members to listen first-hand to what the issues are, and we are planning on, early next year, working on the development of the freight and logistics plan within the overall transport plan. So, hopefully, all our messages will continue to feed in there.

But, yes, I just want to reinforce one of the points that Sally made. Where we'd be looking for additional help would be on the level 2 funding for skills. Level 3 is where most Government funding kicks in, but logistics tends to find itself at level 2, so we fall outside of scope. But level 2 roles—and, again, as Sally said, it’s not just the driver; there are a lot of other people around—make up 67 per cent of the logistics workforce, compared to a national average of 40 per cent. So, we are very reliant on these roles to keep things moving, but they’re the ones that don’t get the funding level. So, if there is any kind of movement that we could have in support in devolved funding, as we’re asking from central and UK Government, to bring down the funding bands or lift the roles up into the funded bands to try and get more funding for other roles within the logistics sector.

Thank you very much indeed, Vikki. If I can now bring in Sam Kurtz to ask a few questions. Sam.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Good morning, everybody. The discussion so far has been quite fluid, so some of the points that I was going to raise have already been covered in some depth, but I would just pile my two questions that I have with regard to driving facilities, and driver facilities more specifically. UK Government, obviously, recently announced a plan to improve those in England. Should the Welsh Government follow that, and if so, how would that look per se, given that they are mainly private entities? And is there need or want for a standardisation or a classification scheme, as it were, for roadside service stations and places like that? I'll start with Sally.

10:45

The short answer is 'yes'. Within Wales, there is very little provision for truck drivers. It's not just a case of having somewhere they can pull in and have basic facilities. Yes, there should be—I hate to say 'minimum standard', because, actually, we want everyone to have a good standard. Quite often, obviously people are having to stay overnight. They want clean, free, hot showers, they want access to good food, not just takeaway. You can imagine, obviously it can be quite costly for them when they're out on the road. We haven't touched on diversity yet, but if we are going to start attracting more women into the job role, we need to make them far more safe and secure, and that's obviously not just for women, that's for everybody. As I mentioned earlier, the security levels around truck stops are just not there.

With regard to what Welsh Government can do, one of the biggest problems that we have is not—you've already touched on the fact that they're privately funded, they're not Government run, but we do need the planning permission. Quite often, whenever we're trying to build new truck stops, they're rejected by councils because they don't want a truck stop within their area. But these are necessary—you have to have a 45-minute break, quite a number of people need to stop overnight. We don't want people parking in lay-bys. The truck drivers don't really want to be parking in lay-bys because it's not safe. So, what we need is that provision. The bit that Welsh Government can really help with is actually helping us with the planning permission and finding those sites, because, at the moment, more often than not, they are rejected. I will leave time for the others because I'm conscious that we are starting to run out of time.

Again, the short answer is, 'absolutely yes'. The planning was the point I was going to really land home, but Sally's covered it off. That is one of the biggest barriers to the creation of new infrastructure. The UK Government, covering England in its national planning policy framework, did amend it a couple of years ago, and the key paragraph is paragraph 109, where they did actually put in a phrase:

'Planning policies and decisions should recognise the importance of providing adequate overnight lorry parking facilities'

for the logistics industry. So, if there's anything that could be done there, maybe lifting the text and introducing it into the Welsh planning considerations.

In terms of standards, in a previous role for Logistics UK, I worked in the Brussels office for some years, and we did a lot of work in Brussels with the European Commission and the social partners—so, the employers and the unions—on setting two different kinds of standards: comfort standards and security standards with a star rating and a padlock rating. So, these things do exist. The International Road Transport Union, which represents the haulage associations from across the world, but also in the European Union, has its own classification system. So, we don't need to reinvent the wheel here; we just need to see what's available, see if it's applicable. Not all parking needs to be Fort Knox-level style security, but there does need to be an uplift in the provision, and again, we welcome the £30-odd million the UK Government has invested. We hope that, via whatever funding formula there is, money is made available to Wales to do a similar thing.

I was recently contacted by Carmarthenshire council, asking about truck parking facilities in its own area, so I don't know if that shows that they don't know what's available themselves, but we did give evidence to them. So, it does seem to be that there is some movement at the local level in Wales in terms of what's going on and what is available at the moment at the roadside.

10:50

I'll keep it brief, because I think Chris and Sally have very much summarised the key answers, which are around, 'Yes, Welsh Government should follow'. I think, when it comes to standards, it comes back to the point I made earlier: if we don't really know what's there now, it's hard to know whether standards are appropriate or not. And so, getting an early survey of existing facilities, I think, would be useful.

The one other thing to keep in mind is that, obviously, across the A55 corridor in north Wales and the M4/A40 corridor in south Wales, you can see a good commercial case for truck facilities, but it may be that there is a bit more support needed for facilities in the more rural parts of Wales, where it might be not quite so commercially viable to run or provide such a high level of security, but nonetheless, truck drivers still need to take their breaks when they're out in that part of the country.

Okay. Thank you very much indeed, Sam. If I can now bring in Luke Fletcher to ask a couple of questions. Luke.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. I did have some questions around the reference period for HGV drivers, but I know Sarah Murphy's touched quite a bit on that in her line of questioning, so I'm happy, Chair, to pass additional questions on to you, because I do think there was a bit of disconnect with what we've been told here, and the reality on the ground—something that I can identify with having worked in hospitality. But I'll move the line of questioning on in interest of time.

I think it's fair to say that all sectors of the economy and society are focusing on what they can do to decarbonise. On this topic, how could the Welsh Government's review of road schemes seek to address decarbonisation without damaging road freight? I'll begin with Chris, and then we'll go on to Sally, and then Andrew.

I was hoping you would start with Andrew as he's a member of the roads panel. At the COP26 meeting, we did launch our own manifesto, 'The Route to Net Zero', looking at how the industry needs to decarbonise. In terms of its link to the road network, it's obviously going to be how the proportion of vehicles—so, the charging, the network of charging. And so, any kind of future strategy of road schemes needs to look at how the charging infrastructure will be brought in and laid alongside the roads, new or existing.

The Welsh Government did publish its EV charging action plan coming up. What we would say to that is anything that does happen—because the action plan does concentrate on cars and vans, but vans are only mentioned at the beginning and not in the document for the rest of it, so there are specificities for vans that need to be taken into account already. But also any kind of review of charging infrastructure needs to be futureproofed. Because, at the moment, heavy vehicles are not going to be battery run, but they might be in the future. Any kind of charging infrastructure needs to have the ability to upscale. An HGV charging plug needs to be there at the beginning, rather than having to retrofit it back in again, which would cost so much more money.

We had the phase-out dates for diesel. Our members are working hard to already electrify their smaller fleets—so, the vans. There's a whole question about electricity networks and grids that needs to be discussed—not for this, though. But we are working hard. Road transport is always going to be there, so there are always going to be some emissions until we reach the moment in time where there'll be zero emissions. We are heading towards that point. So, again, we don't want to see any kind of low-carbon fuels being taken off the market until zero-tailpipe-emission vehicles are in place.

So, hopefully the roads panel will have all this. We are going to be giving evidence to that and supplying the panel with all the information going forward in the new year when their work starts in earnest. Apologies if that was a bit—. But it's all about the networks and the infrastructure for charging of the new electric vehicles coming in the future.

I'll echo what Chris just said: infrastructure is key here. As you can imagine, the lifecycle of an HGV is much longer. It's a very expensive vehicle, so people are making those buying decisions now, and they want those vehicles to be on the roads for a long time. We're already nearly in 2022, so, actually, when we look at the 2035 and the 2040 targets, we need to know what it is going to be, and I think that's the big one. We need to know: is it going to be hydrogen, is it going to be electric for HGVs? If it is electric, as Chris just said, we actually need the infrastructure going in now, because there's a real chicken-and-egg situation here. You can't get an electric vehicle if you don't think you're going to be able to get the range on that. It's certainly stopping quite a few companies who operate perhaps in that mid Wales area, where, obviously, it's very rural, and it's even stopping people from purchasing electric vans at the moment, because they can't pull up at a customer's and say, 'Can I plug in?' They need to be able to stop for 15 minutes, do a top-up and then continue on their journey. So, that infrastructure needs to be in place before the vehicles are even purchased. As Chris said, charging up a HGV is very different from charging up a little Fiesta. So, you need that, which probably feeds back into what we were just talking about with the driver facilities. If you're stopping for a 45-minute break, you also need to be able to charge up the HGV at the same time. We need the driver facilities there, but also the infrastructure.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the M4 on this call, because congestion plays a massive part in terms of emissions. If you are stuck in traffic, then that does prevent that road improving. So, we need to somehow—. I'm not going to get into the whole building of new roads or whatever, but we somehow need to speed up and make that a better and more reliable road so that people aren't just sat in congestion on the M4. Whether that is the continuous improvement with regard to putting in some public transport and improving that to free up—. At the end of the day, HGVs, vans, we're not there because we want to drive along the road for fun, we're there because we are delivering goods, we have to be there. So, we just need to try and free up that space for the key journeys.

10:55

Thank you, Sally. I think we could be here all day talking about the congestion issues, but I'll move on to Andrew in the interest of time.

As Chris telegraphed a minute ago, I do sit on the roads review panel, so I'll perhaps be slightly more tempered in what I would say in response to the question. But I think what Sally and Chris have really got across is that decarbonisation of freight is as much about the method of propulsion as it is the infrastructure that's there, and they get across quite clearly there are challenges in terms of what a future truck will look like. Will it be electric? Will it be hydrogen? Will it be bionic duckweed? We just don't really know yet exactly what the method of propulsion is going to be for the mass market. There are signs that electric and hydrogen are probably the ways to go, but we don't know that. To some extent, that lies outside the scope and remit of the roads review panel, which is obviously more focusing on the road infrastructure itself, but within the discussions we are very mindful that freight is going to always be a user of the road network and to make sure that whatever decisions we come to reflect insights as to what the industry might need from that.

Okay. Thank you, Luke. If I can now perhaps bring in Hefin David to ask another question. Hefin. No, Hefin's—

I'm having a little bit of trouble with my Wi-Fi connection, so it just seems to work better if I power down some of the tech here. My question is regarding the new Wales transport strategy, which includes a commitment to develop a freight and logistics plan. Is it under way, and how should it, along with national and regional delivery plans, help address the driver shortage?

Do you want me to take that one first?

What I'd say is at the minute I'm not aware of any progress on the plan as such. Obviously, there have been more pressing issues, short-term issues, that need to be looked at, plus the Welsh Government is still working out the taking forward of regional plans. I think it needs to happen. The last Wales freight strategy was back in 2008, and I think it needs to be seen almost on a par with the regional plans that are being developed for transport generally. It can't be just seen as a mini plan as part of the overall document, it's got to be a separate plan that covers Wales and has an appropriate level of depth of decision making, going forwards.

Having said that, I think that we also need to make sure that freight appears in the regional transport plans. Going back a few years, when we did have regional transport consortia, a lot of their focus was on passenger transport only, and I think only one of the regional consortia ever had a freight plan for its region. We need to make sure that we don't just plan nationally for freight, but that we do plan regionally for freight as well to make sure that local decisions don't have an impact at a wider scale.

11:00

Does anybody else want to comment? My Wi-Fi is really bad; I can just about make you out. Does anybody else want to comment?

I can just add to that that, yes, we're in discussions with Welsh Government officials. As Andrew said, they've been doing a lot of other things recently, but we have a plan in place to look at how we, as an association, can feed into their work, from January next year, going forward. So, it is under way. There's nothing tangible at the moment, but it is a welcome thing. It's not often that you get this sort of level, and I praise the Welsh Government in its publications, because it actually has mentioned freight quite often, whereas in other authorities on this island, you're actually fighting to get freight and logistics mentioned in the document in the first place. So, the fact that there is a commitment to a plan is already a positive thing. But, at the moment, there is nothing yet, but we are working with the officials to move forward next year. 

Nothing particular to add, but just to echo what Andrew said, that freight mustn't be an afterthought and fitting in around everything else. These are crucial journeys. And I think what we were just discussing with regard to the infrastructure, I think that has to obviously feature in any kind of future freight strategy. And, as Andrew said, it was a long time ago that we had a specific freight strategy. I know that we've also been working with Welsh Government, but, yes—. We welcome the fact that, perhaps, this work will start again.

Thank you very much, Hefin. And if I can just bring in Sarah now, just for one very brief final question. Sarah.

Thank you, Chair. I just wanted to ask specifically about the 2008 Welsh Government freight strategy, which identified many issues that are at the root of the cause of the current shortage, including skills and facilities. So, how effective was the implementation of this strategy, do you think? And I'll come to you first, Andrew, if that's okay.

I think having a strategy helped to give a lot of focus to freight. I think it's given leverage to be able to do things, and it has given that awareness of what's there. Could it have done better? Well, I suppose with hindsight you can always judge that maybe there were different things that could have happened, but I think the fact that it existed and that at Welsh Government it still gets referred to shows that there is that awareness of freight. And, as Chris touched on, we don't always get that in policy making, either at a regional or a national level. So, I think it's helped, but it hasn't necessarily solved all of the problems.

I've nothing really to add to that, apart from I suppose that we wouldn't perhaps be having the discussion that we're having right now if it had been completely successful.  

No, we don't have any comment on the 2008 plan, I'm afraid.

Okay. Thank you very much, Sarah. I'm afraid time has beaten us, so this session has come to an end. I just want to, on behalf of the committee, thank all of you for your time this morning. It's been a very useful and informative session. A transcript of today's proceedings will be sent to you in due course, just for accuracy. If there are any issues then please let us know, but thank you very much indeed for giving up your time this morning. Thank you very much indeed. 

And now we'll take a 10-minute break to prepare for the next session. Thank you very much indeed.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:04 a 11:17.

The meeting adjourned between 11:04 and 11:17.

11:15
4. Diffyg gyrwyr cerbydau nwyddau trwm a phroblemau â’r gadwyn gyflenwi - Sefydliadau busnes
4. HGV Driver Shortage and Supply Chain Issues inquiry - Business organisations

Croeso nôl i gyfarfod y Pwyllgor Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig. Symudwn ni nawr ymlaen i eitem 4. Dyma'r ail o dair sesiwn dystiolaeth yn ein hymchwiliad undydd i ddiffyg gyrwyr cerbydau nwyddau trwm a phroblemau â’r gadwyn gyflenwi, a byddwn ni nawr yn cymryd tystiolaeth gan sefydliadau busnes. A gaf i felly groesawu y tystion i'r sesiwn yma? Ac os caf i ofyn iddyn nhw i gyflwyno eu hunain i'r record, ac wedyn gallwn ni symud yn syth i gwestiynau, ac efallai y gallaf i ddechrau gyda Pete Robertson.

Welcome back to this meeting of the Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee. We'll now move on to item 4 on our agenda. This is the second of three evidence sessions in our one-day inquiry into HGV driver shortage and supply chain issues, and we will now take evidence from business organisations. May I therefore welcome our witnesses to this session? If I could ask them to introduce themselves for the record, and then we will move immediately to questions from Members, and perhaps we can start with Pete Robertson.

Excuse me, Chair. Just a second. 

Please. Thank you. Sorry about that.

Good morning, Chair. Thank you very much indeed. My name is Paul Slevin. I'm chair and president of Chambers Wales, and also the policy lead for engagement with Welsh and UK Governments.

Thank you, Chair. My apologies. I'm Pete Robertson, I'm chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation Cymru based in Wales, and I focus on our activities enhancing the collective operation across the UK and applying it within a Welsh context.

Thank you very much indeed for being with us this morning. Thank you for those introductions and perhaps I can kick off with the first question. Perhaps you'd be kind enough to outline the current situation regarding the HGV driver shortage and its impact on supply chains, on businesses, and indeed on customers, and perhaps I can start with Paul.

Certainly, Chair. Thank you very much indeed. I think it's worth just putting this in context, if I may. HGV driver shortage is symptomatic of a wider problem, and it contributes to what we call a triangulation of challenges that businesses face on a day-to-day basis. Those three challenges really are around skill set, around tension in the supply chain, and around the cost of raw materials. Just from our perspective, if you resolve the HGV driver problem tomorrow, you're not going to fix the challenges that businesses are facing on a day-to-day basis going forward, and it is going to take some time. So, I think it's worth just setting that out as a context that says that this is a smaller part of a much bigger set of challenges that businesses face.

If we ignore where we are today in respect of the potential threat of a further COVID wave coming through, and just accept the delta wave as being the guiding beacon, we forecast that trade will track at about 5.2 per cent inflation to quarter 2 of 2022, and that's probably the highest rate that we've seen since September 2011. We don't believe that that's going to nudge back to the Bank of England accepted rate till the middle to third quarter of 2023. The impact that we're seeing—you'll have heard all the statistics before. We came into this year with a 100,000 driver shortage. We think that's probably down to about an 80,000 driver shortage at the moment, thanks to the good work that the DVLA have done in respect of releasing some of that licensing backlog. But as I said earlier, even if we could spirit 80,000 drivers into the system now, it's not going to resolve the problems that we have. We are seeing immediate pressures in lateness of goods, which I can cover in more detail in due course. We're seeing immediate pressure in respect of price and costing, particularly around shipping, and we expect that this will continue probably till quarter 3 of 2022.

Okay, thank you very much. Pete Robertson.

11:20

Thank you. Yes, I think it's an interesting point Paul raises around the breadth of supply chain, because if we look at the labour shortages overall in terms of the food and drink sector, whilst HGV is clearly a significant issue, the food and drink sector operates on a just-in-time basis, as in day 1 for day 2, day 1 for day 3. Actually, what's really important for the sector is consistency of supply, so clearly the HGV driver shortage itself causes challenges, because you've got inconsistent deliveries.

The one thing I would also like to highlight is the broader perspective in terms of—. I noticed that, in the previous evidence session, there was a comment around warehousing, and actually the knock-on effect of competition for warehousing staff means that other sectors, those businesses with predominantly higher margins—. Because it's important to understand that food and drink as a sector is a very low-margin business, and so when price inflation comes in, or competition for a limited amount of staff is in place, what that then means is that the food and drink sector is in a more difficult position to be able to compete, and by definition loses those skills and loses the opportunity to employ those people. So, it doesn't necessarily just impact warehousing, it impacts production operatives. I know a business in north Wales that employs about 400 people; it's got 84 vacancies, and it's got about six applicants. And so from that point of view there are some specific challenges within the sector that are knock-on effects.

So, I really appreciate the opportunity to give evidence today, because I think that, obviously, the narrative of HGV drivers is really important and necessary, because if we can't get our raw materials in, as Paul indicates, then we can't necessarily manufacture the food, and if we can't get the food from the factories to the retail hospitality outlets, then people can't consume the food. However, in the middle, we still need to be able to operate in an efficient and effective way. So, from that perspective I think there's a broader view that we need to consider in these discussions, if that's okay.

Okay. Thank you very much indeed for that. If I can now bring in Sarah Murphy to ask a question. Sarah.

Thank you, Chair. So, what engagement have you had with the Welsh Government to address the issues that have caused the HGV driver shortage? If I can come to Paul first, please.

Thank you, Sarah. This is an ongoing debate, and we have very, very significant engagement with Welsh Government on two platforms, really. We, as a business representative organisation, engage with the economy group quite regularly, probably weekly, if not more often, depending on where the challenges are. But more recently, we're now starting to bring a platform together of a greater number of groups. So, you will hear shortly about the launch of the Wales business council, which represents just about 30 private sector organisations, and that has come in reaction to the social partnership council. So, the FSB, CBI and ourselves sit on the social partnership council, and therefore we can bring the strength of that message directly to the First Minister's table as well. Rest assured we do, and that wider piece that Pete talked about in respect of skills, not just in the sector, but the wider skills sector, supply chains, material costing, and the contributory HGV challenges, are all regular discussion items that we will have.

11:25

As the Food and Drink Federation, we've got two routes into discussions with Welsh Government. One is through the food division and colleagues in the food division. We have regular policy updates and discussions from that perspective. However, if we're talking about HGV drivers, we would talk more about the potential impacts and the risks, rather than the solutions for HGV. Clearly, there are others that are closer to that themselves, and we would need them to do that. However, obviously, from the skills perspective, we also joined a winter pressures discussion with the Minister. So, from that perspective, we are trying to engage practically with the Welsh Government where we can to try and share the experiences of a sector that's, obviously, the length and breadth of Wales and is in so many communities, whether it's larger businesses or small businesses. Thank you, Sarah.

Thank you, Sarah. If I can now bring in Luke Fletcher to ask a couple of questions. Luke.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Just to follow on, really, we've talked about what the engagement has been with Welsh Government, and other similar issues. I was wondering what actions businesses are taking in order to alleviate the impact of HGV driver shortages on supply chains, and what impact this could have on the consumer. I'll start with Paul and then move to Pete, if that's okay. 

Thanks, Luke. I think there is a variety of actions that businesses will take. Some of it is reactionary stuff. One of the quickest solutions that businesses typically come up with when they're looking at raw material delays is that they order more. So, we're in a situation right now where we see supply chains filling up to flooding, primarily because if a business normally receives their goods, let's say, every two to four weeks, and that's gone to two to four months, what the business will do is continue to order more in the hope that something will come through. You will recognise that that potentially has the opportunity to aggravate the problem, because all you're doing is you're swelling the volume in an already stressed and tensed supply chain.

I'm not going to comment from a food and drink perspective because that's up to Pete, and his lead times are much shorter than some of ours. But if you look at areas such as automotive, aerospace and general manufacturing, what we're seeing is those supply chains starting to fill, but it doesn't address the root cause. And the root causes are back, sometimes, at source. If you're importing from China, the challenge you have right now is that China is rationing power, so some of these manufacturing plants are only working three days a week. So, we just need to be very careful that we don't try and fix the HGV problem out of context with the rest of this stuff. 

Businesses are attempting to stock, they're attempting to multisource, they're attempting to work with suppliers in an effort to smooth those supply chains in ways that they can, but it is having a material impact on businesses, and it will have a material impact on consumers as those supply chains continue to grind and to slow down. And we are already seeing warnings from some of the smaller retail stores that lead times to Christmas will be impacted and, more significantly, costs—i.e. the price a consumer will pay—will also be impacted. I don't know whether you saw, but there was a BDO report done very recently where 500 businesses were surveyed, and two thirds of them indicated that they would be increasing prices in the run-up to Christmas. Some of that may be opportunistic, it may not be—who knows—but there is a trend, a significant trend; two-thirds of those 500 businesses are suggesting that they need to increase their prices to consumers as a result of the supply chain issues.  

Yes, please. Thanks, Luke. In terms of what happens in the food and drink manufacturing sector, you have to adapt in quite a few ways. So, if you've got the driver shortages, let's think about it; your raw materials are inconsistent, you don't quite know, as Paul says, and, actually, you order 50 to get 10. So, that's the type of logic you would have. But, when you then think about what that means for the outbound supply chain, if it's more difficult to get people and it's more difficult to get resources, one of the first things you'll do is you'll simplify your range. So, we had one member that made six different versions of the same product and, through the challenges, they're now making two variants. So, from a consumer's perspective, you don't get—I'm just picking an example—one litre, 0.5 litre and 250ml, you only get the 500ml because that's the one that most people buy, for example. So, you have to streamline your range to allow you to do that. Also, in extremis, ultimately you may have to actually look at prioritising some of your customers. You're in a situation where if you've got a capped ability to supply your customers and a capped access to HGV drivers towards the marketplace, you can't service them all, so either you have an agreed volume level where you reduce the volume capabilities across all your customers, or you have to prioritise one of your customers.

And one other thing specifically to add in terms of inflation. Paul is absolutely correct, but the one wider thing as well, I would say, in terms of understanding the holistic perspective we need here, is you'll have noticed the news on the carbon dioxide shortages. There is a range of products, whether it's ready meals, whether it's processed poultry—there are various different products—where if you don't have access to carbon dioxide, the factory closes down completely. And it comes back to this holistic range of challenges, all at the same time.

11:30

Chair, if I may just come back in for a second, please.

I think it's also worth looking at the fact that if you have a business that is now increasing its stock supply chain, i.e. it's ramping up the volumes, as Pete said—'I need 10 so I'll order 50'—the working capital impact on the business here in Wales is significant. They're tying up working capital, which effectively weakens that balance sheet and puts that business at further risk, just at a time when we're starting to pull back out of COVID, or attempting to pull back out of COVID. And nobody's mentioned the Brexit word yet, but Brexit has got some play in this. It has got some tension to add to this space, and we are seeing additional documentation and shipping costs as a result of this. So, back to Pete's point, it is a sphere of stuff that's happening here, not just HGV supply.

Thank you, Pete, and Paul, of course. I take the point that this is a wider set of issues, not just the HGV driver shortage, and I'm sure we will reflect that in our report to the Senedd. But sticking with the HGV driver shortage issue for a moment, and what businesses are doing, one thing we've heard through our discussions with drivers in the committee, in the run-up to this inquiry, relates to the quality of facilities for drivers in warehouses, as well as pay and conditions and treatment of drivers as they make deliveries to premises. Given that these have been identified as deterrents for those entering the profession, I'd be interested to know what steps businesses are taking to address these issues. I'll start with Pete this time, and then move to Paul.

I think, from a business's perspective, inbound supply into—. If you think of the nature of the food and drink manufacturing sector, the nature of the delays are usually quite short. Often, what you have is a 24/7 supply chain, where you have agreed access with your suppliers—they drive in, they drop the load. Quite often, if might be into siloes, for example, so it's silo deliveries. And as a consequence, it's not in anyone's interest to have a delivery driver waiting facility. What I can say from personal experience in the past is that our delivery drivers were given full access to the facilities on site, and there were local facilities that they could go to from that point of view. So, in terms of the food and drink sector, because you tend to have a limited number and you've not got that many deliveries coming through, it's probably more of an external perspective rather than one for us to do. But in terms of what we're doing specifically, it's case by case. Each business will be trying to look after its inbound supply, I would say.

If I may, I'd like to disassemble your question into two parts, please. I'd like to deal with the facilities at point of delivery first. We did quite a lot of work in preparation for this discussion this morning, and spent a lot of time talking directly to businesses and transport managers, and I echo what Pete said. Having run two manufacturing plants here in Wales in the recent past, we would always open our yards to make sure that truck, driver and contents were safe. Even if that truck turned up on a Saturday night, we would always make sure that that driver had access to the yard. That made sure that security was paramount. He or she would always be offered access to canteens, restrooms, facilities, whatever they needed. So, I'm not sure I completely recognise that drivers are being mistreated. I think what's happened—and particularly over the last 20 months—is that the status of HGV drivers and all delivery drivers has been promoted in the sense that they are nigh on being an essential worker now in keeping the food and healthcare supply chains going in the course of the pandemic. But we have not been made aware of any drivers who have been mistreated as a result of that.

In respect of pay, because you did suggest pay in your question as well, few of the firms that we would deal with—and, in fact, probably few firms here in Wales—actually have their own fleet. So, most of the fleet comes through larger fleet operators and that's not directly impacted or controlled by the work that the firm does themselves. So, the recipient, the company that's taking the delivery, may not be in best control of what the driver is being paid. What we are seeing from a salary perspective in the sector is this perfect circle that's happening, where some of the older drivers are leaving because it's a lifestyle choice and they feel that potentially driving for a local van company is easier because they can work five days a week and get home at night-time, but younger people who are coming into the sector are actually commanding much higher salaries. And we have seen evidence of golden handshakes—key money, if you like—of up to £50,000 to attract a driver, so that is creating salary pressure within the sector.

One fleet operator here in Wales said to me, 'I actually have to give my drivers the choice of truck they wish to drive, because some people like to drive Volvo and some people like to drive DAF'. So, there's a big capital expense involved for the haulier as well. So, I don't recognise the first part, which is drivers being mistreated in any way. Of course, there are certain premises across Wales's industrial landscape where access will be challenging, because the premises wasn't designed to put up with a 40 ft heavyweight truck going in, but I think those are things that drivers compensate for. I would be shocked if somebody came back to me and said that a driver was being abused at a point of delivery.

11:35

Excuse me, Chair. Could I just come back on that, if that's okay?

I just wanted to make one specific point, Paul, to pick up on your second point. One of the things that have been encountered is actually, because of the rural nature and the competitive nature, we're seeing some driver skills moving out of the sector and into other sectors, whether that's the online delivery sector, for example. In some cases, it's geographical, based on rates of pay. This is really important from a Wales perspective. Rural hauliers, for example, are finding that some of the drivers are actually moving to less rural, more urban areas because they're able to command better rates of pay from those areas. Given the nature of, quite often, tramping in the driving world, where people actually stay away from home for a period of time, the fact that they're based in a more urban centre or more rural centre doesn't necessarily cause them too many difficulties. So, it's just a dynamic that we need to keep an eye on and just understand the nature of the scale of that risk moving forward.

Thank you. Just one very brief point, Chair. I know that we're tight for time here. I'm sure, Paul—I take the point that you might not have come across any drivers who have been mistreated, of course, but that doesn't mean to say that it doesn't happen.

I'm sure that you'd agree with me and join with me in saying that if there are any drivers who have been mistreated, we'd hope that they would come forward and report that, because, of course, you might not have come across it yourself, but that doesn't mean to say that it doesn't happen.

Yes. Just because I don't recognise it doesn't mean that it's not happening, Luke, and if it is occurring, steps should be taken to stop that. That's absolutely not the right way to treat any human being.

I absolutely agree with what you say, Paul. And to be honest, Luke, one of the things you'll find if you're trying to keep your—. If it's difficult to get new staff, one of the most important things is to treat and keep the staff that you've got and look after them well. So, you'd like to think that Paul's experience is pretty much what's happening out there.

Diolch, Luke. If I can now bring in Vikki Howells to ask a couple of questions. Vikki.

Thank you, Chair. Good morning, panel. I'm just interested, really, in your views on the measures taken by the UK Government to address the HGV driver shortage and how effective you think that those measures have been. I don't know who wants to start with that. Pete, you look like you're ready.

Thank you. That's a first, Vikki, that's very kind of you. Thank you for your question. Obviously, I'm speaking for the food and drink manufacturing sectors. I don't want to say too much on this particular area; there are other colleagues, and you'll speak to other people, who have got a far better understanding of that. However, Paul mentioned the words 'our exit from the European Union' and what I would say is that a shortage of drivers in the UK supply chain is not necessarily news. It's not something that's suddenly appeared; it's something that's been on the radar for some time. So, from a perspective of that, you would think that maybe there could have been more preparations in place. But I don't really want to say more than that, because it's not an area of my expertise, and that's just giving you an opinion from looking at it, to a certain degree, from outside. 

11:40

Vikki, thanks. I'll say a bit more, if I may. The measures introduced are maybe a little late, and potentially not necessarily having the impact that they desire to have. So, I think trying to resolve a problem by issuing three-month permits for drivers to come into this country is not sustainable. And I don't know what the current take-up rate is, but, certainly, the last time I looked, I think, of the 5,000 permits that were made available, something like 128 applications had been received, and less than 30 permits had actually been granted. Now, that number may have changed significantly since I last looked at it. It's not going to solve the problem, primarily because by Christmas eve you're either out of a job or you're an illegal immigrant. So, it's not an attractive proposition. 

I think, from our perspective, there are structural issues, and Pete's referred to this. There are structural issues within this sector that suggest that actually this is a problem that's been brewing for some time. And when you get an average age within the workforce of in excess of 56, there are indicators in there that the sector actually should have been working to address this problem long before Brexit occurred and long before the pandemic struck. One of the things that I think—and we we work very closely with Welsh Government on this, particularly in the retail sector and other sectors—one of the things that needs to be done is that somebody needs to work hard to ensure that the driving sector, the HGV sector, the delivery sector, is regarded as a respectable career that is well paid, there are good working conditions in there, and there are opportunities for drivers to progress through the process, in order to be promoted or move on to whatever it is they want to move on to, and I'm not sure we've done that. I think there are sectors within all of our economies where we haven't necessarily created the right environment for the next generation or for others to come into that sector, because they choose to because it is an attractive career, and the conditions and pay and facilities are right for doing so. So, there's a structural change that I think pre-dates the supply chain tensions and pre-dates Brexit and the pandemic that potentially may have been missed within the sector.  

Thank you. So, picking up on that, Paul, can I just ask about the work that's being done to expand the HGV driver testing capacity and assisting people to take HGV training courses? How good do you think those measures have been in reality?

I don't have the numbers at the end of my fingers, Vikki, but the sense is that it's still too expensive. If I were a younger man and wanted to go in and do HGV driving, you've got to look at the capital cost and the time involved in getting that qualification, and, if the capital cost is high, it will be prohibitive for people. And I think that's one of the stumbling blocks, that the cost to actually qualify is substantive enough to deter people from doing that. And if you have the opportunity to pursue a career in driving that worked five days a week on an online delivery or a supermarket delivery platform, that's potentially more attractive—or even, as we're seeing in this rotation, this carousel of staff, people are leaving the sector, or not going into the sector, and are going into the bus sector as a result. So, there are other driving jobs around, which are potentially less costly to access. 

So, what role do you think perhaps apprenticeships might be able to play in solving some of these issues? 

I think it goes back to the point I said at the head of this, which is, if we can create a situation where careers are created that are attractive and show progression, I think the whole apprenticeship scheme is fundamental to the success of it, but keep in mind this is a long-term solution; this is not something that's going to solve the problem by the end of the first quarter of next year or even by the end of next year.

11:45

Yes. I'll just check if, Peter, there's anything you want to add to that on apprenticeships or anything else.

Yes, thank you. It's interesting, because Paul touched on something that’s really important to us and our sector and it’s in line—we need people to want to come and work in these sectors. Is it a job? Is it a career? Is it a profession? Is it a calling, if you like? And so, where we are at the moment, at best case, it’s a job and really it needs to be a career—there needs to be aspiration. And I agree—I think apprenticeships can help to deliver that aspiration, or realise that aspiration, sorry, Vikki, but what we need to have is to create the aspiration before people start getting into apprenticeships, rather than going into apprenticeships as a choice. And I think that’s a role that industry can really play across a multitude of sectors, as Paul indicates.

I think, if I may, Chair, just to come back, Vikki—the £17 million that the UK Government has committed to the bootcamp is aligned at training 5,000 people. The problem is 80,000 people.

Diolch yn fawr, Cadeirydd. Good morning. Thank you very much for what you've said so far. It's been incredibly interesting, given the perspectives that you've given. But I would just like to touch on with regards to the UK Government announcement around improving lorry park service stations et cetera over in England, and whether there is an necessity for the Welsh Government to do something similar here in Wales to improve the standards for lorry drivers, freight drivers and whether there's a need for a standardisation of what is expected at these stations. I'll start with you, Paul.

Sure. Thanks, Sam. Look, this is not rocket science. We have seen the front end—the consumer end—of motorway services being substantially improved year on year on year, and I'm not convinced that that's necessarily conducive to freight operators. The areas are still tight for them. They don't necessarily get exclusive parking and, if you're wielding a 40 ft truck and somebody's parked a car in your space, then you've got a bit of a problem.

I think there's a whole issue around pricing for people who are working—trade personnel—who need to use the services. That needs to be addressed. And from our perspective, the more emphasis there is on the consumer—. That's great, because, obviously, consumers and families and people need to go to services in order to take a break and find food et cetera, but it shouldn't be at the cost of the key supply chains that are going on in the background, those big trucks that trundle down the slow lane of the M4 day after day after day. I think there is a need to improve facilities and we'll have all been in motorway services and wondered: is the quality really up to where it is?  And that's not a criticism in any way on the services that are there; they're serving a purpose. But I think the important thing is that there should be some form of study, there should be some plan in place, which says, 'We need to review the facilities that are available, offer some form of standardisation that actually meets the needs of the sector, not what other people think.' I think we need to go back to the customer and find out what the customer wants and then ensure that that's delivered consistently across the space. And security has to be, I would have thought, reasonably high on that list, given some of the challenges that we have.

Thanks, Sam. I think Paul's pretty much nailed that and I know we're running short on time, so I think anything that helps the flow of goods is welcome, and anything that creates an environment where people want to work in the sector, clearly, that's going to be part of that solution. 

Thanks, Sam. And if I can now bring in Hefin David to ask a question. Hefin.

Thank you. I'd just like quickly to ask, because I'm aware of time, the views of the panel on the Welsh Government's decision to suspend future road building where the diggers aren't in the ground and the impact on freight. What's the view of the panel on that?

Look, Hefin, let me go first, if I can. Thanks for the question and apologies if this sounds like an overly political response, but the issue is—. I can completely and utterly understand why the road review takes place, and every decision that we make should be made through the lens of net zero. I completely understand that, and we would support that. I think the important thing here is that it has to be fit for purpose. So, if there are specific areas of Wales that are inaccessible to certain types of freight, due to a blanket decision that’s been made by Welsh Government not to develop roads, or if people's lives are being put at risk or jeopardised because there are 40 ft trucks trundling through the middle of villages and affecting the safety of school children or whatever, those are individual cases. I think having a policy is fine, as long as we have the flexibility to be able to say, 'It’s not a rigid policy; we may have to adapt and flex that policy to suit specific local circumstances.' I think Wales has got such a disparate community in respect of concentrations around cities, but also quite remote areas, where businesses do operate, that we need to be cognisant and mindful of the impact of such a broad policy in respect of the impact on that business, but also the impact on society. So, all we would suggest is a bit of flexibility to understand the very local circumstances, rather than trying to rigidly apply a policy for the sake of applying the policy. And I’m sure that Welsh Government would do that.

11:50

Cheers. Thanks for the question. I would echo that, and amplify it to a certain degree from the food and drink sector, because the vast majority of the sector—85 per cent of it—is small businesses and they're located across the length and breadth of Wales. One of the challenges that there are going to be moving forward is to stay competitive, whilst at the same time making sure you have smooth, clean and net-zero based supply chains. So, for us, I think the view needs to be—. We need to understand where we are now, and where we’re going in the future, and then decide how that takes us forward, would be our view.

Thank you, Hefin. One final question, perhaps, from me. How should the delivery of the Wales transport strategy, and particularly the freight and logistics plan, help to address the shortages? Paul.

Well, I’ve looked at the plan and the whole strategy and, again, I completely support the need for it. The mini plan on pages 82 to 85 of that, which deals with freight and logistics, in our eyes, needs to be developed out to being a much more consultative, integrated plan, involving all parts of the industry, to ensure that the needs of that industry and, as Pete has alluded to, the need to deliver not just to the centre of Cardiff and Newport or Wrexham, but the need to deliver to rural Pembrokeshire and rural Ceredigion, are all integrated into that plan, so that it is effectively delivered. We support the plan. It’s a great idea. But please make sure that there is adequate consultation with the sector, so that, when the plan is to be delivered, the sector completely support it.

So, you belive that there hasn't been enough engagement yet with the sector on this particular plan.

I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is that the current output is the four pages of the mini plan within the strategy. I’m not sure that’s sufficient to be able to deliver the plan effectively.

Yes, I'm not as close to that as Paul is. What I would say is that what we welcomed is the vision for the food and drink sector that’s just recently been announced at the winter fair, and what we would look to do is to make sure that the logistics and plans for how transport strategies move forward align and are dovetailed to the vision and activities that help to support the future growth of our sector.

Well, thank you very much indeed, and our session has now come to an end. Can I, on behalf of the committee, thank you both for being with us this morning? It’s been a very useful and informative session. So, thank you very much indeed. We will send you a transcript of today’s proceedings for accuracy purposes. If there are any issues, then please let us know. But, once again, thank you both for being with us this morning.

We’ll now take a short break to prepare for the next session. So, thank you very much.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:54 a 12:05.

The meeting adjourned between 11:54 and 12:05.

12:05
5. Diffyg gyrwyr cerbydau nwyddau trwm a phroblemau â’r gadwyn gyflenwi - Undebau Llafur
5. HGV Driver Shortage and Supply Chain Issues inquiry - Trade Unions

Croeso nôl i gyfarfod Pwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig. Symudwn ni ymlaen nawr i eitem 5. Dyma'r sesiwn dystiolaeth olaf yn ein hymchwiliad undydd i ddiffyg gyrwyr cerbydau nwyddau trwm a phroblemau â'r gadwyn gyflenwi, a byddwn ni nawr yn cymryd tystiolaeth o safbwynt undebau llafur. Gaf i groesawu y tyst i'r sesiwn yma, ac os caf i ofyn iddi gyflwyno ei hunan i'r record, a wedyn gallwn ni symud yn syth ymlaen i gwestiynau?

Welcome back to this meeting of the Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee. We will move on now to item 5 on our agenda. This is the final evidence session in our one-day inquiry into the HGV driver shortage and supply chain issues, and we will now take evidence from a trade union perspective. May I welcome our witness to this session? If I could ask her to introduce herself for the record, and then we will move immediately to questions.

So, hello. My name is Mary Williams. I work for Unite the Union here in Wales, and I work within political and policy.

Thank you very much indeed for that introduction, and before we start questions, I think Sarah Murphy would just like to come in on this. Sarah.

Hello, Chair. Sorry, I just wanted to declare again that I am a member of Unite.

Thank you very much indeed for that declaration, and perhaps I can just kick off with the first question, just by asking you what engagement you have had with the Welsh Government to address issues caused by the HGV drivers shortage.

Right, thanks for that. Before answering that directly, I just want to talk to you a little bit about Unite and where we are on this. So, in the arena of transport, Unite represents over 0.25 million members in all transport modes, and our current membership within passenger transport and road transport, commercial logistics and distribution is about 145,000 members. So, we've continually engaged with and collected views from our members working across the road haulage industry, and for years, Unite has been raising issues with the HG drivers sector.

Now, in the recent Welsh Government consultation on the new transport strategy for Wales, we specifically spoke about freight and logistics. We spoke about the provision of safe, hygienic sanitation and toilet facilities for women and men transport workers, particularly drivers, as a priority that COVID-19 has exposed. And we also highlighted the use of technology-driven labour-management systems in warehousing and logistics to excessively monitor transport workers, which has led to the increased levels of work intensification, stress and mental health issues. And mental health and occupational stress is a huge concern for our transport workers, and Unite is encouraging joint working with employers to protect and support our members in this industry.

Now, at a UK level, we've only just recently given evidence to the transport committee on this very issue, and that was as recently as November.

So, coming back to my question, then: what sort of engagement have you had with the Welsh Government to address some of the issues caused by HGV driver shortages?

Well, as I said, in the consultation that Welsh Government did on a new transport strategy for Wales, we very specifically put in sections in that to do with logistics and freight, and we pointed out the problems that our members in Wales were experiencing in terms of facilities, in terms of what can be done there. So, we've been doing that, and at a UK level, we have our UK transport committee in Unite that are regularly in contact with Westminster committees to speak about this specific issue. So, we raise this quite often. It is a big sector for us, and we do try to engage with our Members of the Senedd at every opportunity to talk about this—transport in general, but very much about this also.

Okay. Thank you very much indeed for that. If I can now bring in Sarah Murphy to ask a question. Sarah.

So, my question is: what measures have been taken to date by the UK and Welsh Governments to address the HGV driver shortage, and to what extent do you believe that they've been effective?

Right. So, we're seeing some of the measures that UK Government has given. So, for instance, there's been an introduction of temporary seasonal work visas. You know, this is an issue that we've been talking about for the last five years. We first raised it that long ago that we saw that this was a potential issue coming down the line. So, it's something that we have been raising and we have been working on. In terms of—. Sorry, Sarah, can you go back again?

12:10

Yes, yes, of course. I was just asking about the measures that have been taken to date by the UK and Welsh Governments, and do you think that they've been effective? And I suppose, if you've mentioned that you were bringing this to their attention five years ago, what have you seen that's been done in those five years, and is it working? I suppose we're having this inquiry today and we're asking these questions because something has gone very wrong along the way.

So, we have been raising it. We've been seeing that there was going to be a driver shortage. We've also—. We've seen the sort of measures that UK Government have brought in. For instance, I think it was in October, they introduced temporary seasonal work visas, but, as I said, we can't really see that as an answer to the problem that we have now.

So, we've estimated that there are about 76,000 drivers short of an existing workforce of 320,000, and to introduce 4,700 seasonal visas, which they did, doesn't really deal with the issue at all. Despite this fixation on getting EU migrants back to address the problem, Brexit and COVID-19 have just really exacerbated the current situation that we have. So, for instance, the pandemic halted driver training and testing for more than 12 months, and it's not just—. The wave of EU drivers who left hasn't been replaced. So, we saw from a recent Office for National Statistics labour force survey that 14,000 EU HGV drivers left employment in the UK in the year to June 2020, but only 600 have returned by the summer of this year. So, by themselves, all these issues contribute to the numbers that have gone down, but there's still a shortage of 76,000 drivers. And like I said, we started raising this five years ago, and it's only getting worse.

Lovely. Diolch yn fawr, Cadeirydd. Good morning, Mary—or good afternoon rather, forgive me. Thank you for what you've said so far. One thing that we've done as a committee is engage with HGV drivers as part of this inquiry, and some of the issues that they raised were around treatment, pay and conditions, facilities, safe parking and roadside services infrastructure. Could you outline to us what specific actions you believe the Welsh Government need to take, as well as freight operators and the customers as well, to address these issues that have been raised by HGV drivers?

Yes, okay. I think, for years, there's been a lack of respect for drivers within the sector—this is going back a long time. And there's been a lack of respect in terms of pay, terms and conditions, a lack of respect in the sort of facilities that are provided, a lack of respect in the equipment that they're expected to use and a lack of respect in the way that maybe road users and members of the public view them.

I mentioned earlier that we have a Unite transport committee, and they've observed that employees in the road haulage sector have not had a cost of living increase for several years, there are no minimum pay standards, rates of pay for new starters are low and pension provisions across the sector are not adequate. Members tell us that distribution centres—. When they arrive at distribution centres, they can be kept waiting for hours. We have reports of retail warehouses and distribution centres where their own facilities for their own drivers are great, but the facilities for drive-in drivers and external drivers—so, these are drivers who are not directly employed by them—are dismal. Small rooms next to inadequate toilets—it's that sort of thing. So, there needs to be a standard set for the industry in terms of facilities.

The existing facilities that I've already referred to are really letting people down. So, we've looked at facilities elsewhere and we see that for—. An example of a really good facility would be the Port of Rotterdam, where they've got parking, security, washing facilities, food outlets, and that's all provided by the port authority. So, when large distribution centres or even new retail parks are being considered for construction, and planning applications are submitted, they should include facilities for drivers, and that means planning rules need to be looked at. Planning applications for developments should have a compulsory element for lorries to be able to park and facilities should be provided. I think Government has a role to play in this. We can mandate a minimum standard, and those standards should be done in conjunction with drivers, and I think that's definitely one way that we could actually look at doing that.

12:15

Excellent, thank you very much, Mary. I'm content, Chair. Thank you.

Thank you, Sam. If I can bring back Sarah Murphy at this point. Sarah.

Thank you, Chair. So, a very appropriate question: what efforts have been made by trade unions to support and retain new drivers, and what additional support should Government provide for the same purpose in your opinion?

Thanks, Sarah. It's just a fact that workplaces that are unionised will see better pay and conditions. So, for example, HG drivers employed in one particular workplace on delivery contracts, they've secured an inflation-busting pay. So, one recent negotiation that Unite did with an employer will see drivers receive a 5 per cent increase, and that will be backdated to 1 February, and a further 5 per cent from 1 November this year. So, in terms of what trade unions are doing, that's primarily our role.

But in other ways, we've been trying to help with regard to this in terms of advertising the funded HGV training that is now provided through the Welsh Government personal learning accounts. So, we in Unite see this as a great opportunity for people to change career or upskill in the HGV sector. So, I'm not sure if you're aware of it, but the criteria for this are basically that you live in Wales, you're over 19, you're employed and you're earning under a certain amount. In Unite, members with our education team have been currently working with a number of further education colleges such as Cardiff and Vale and Neath Port Talbot to try and get this provision up and running as soon as possible, and we're really hopeful that we'll see that in operation in the new year.

Our understanding is that the personal learning account will only cover the cost of the actual HGV training, but there's another element to this, which is quite a restrictive one for drivers in the industry. It's a certificate of competency, and that specific training isn't covered by the learning account, but it can be covered by the Wales union learning fund. Now, I just really want to point out that this CPC certificate is something that is required by drivers to work and earn in the industry. It's expensive, it's between £250 and £500 to complete, and it takes about a week. More often than not, whereas we believe employers should pay for that training and that training should be done during working hours, that's not always the case. So, the fact that we can avail ourselves of this through the Wales union learning fund is really terrific that that's happening here in Wales, and we're very grateful for it.

There are other costs associated with getting into the HGV sector that the personal learning account and the Wales union learning fund won't cover, but those kinds of costs we will talk to our members about and make sure that they have all the information available that they need to be able to do that. It's one of the things where, as a union movement, we can look at the sorts of gaps that exist within a sector and look at education providers and provide a link there, and I think that's really important that that's noted. Thanks.

The follow-up question, I suppose, then is: so, with the training, because one of the things that was brought up by workers in terms of issues around retention is this driver certificate of professional competence, the CPC, and how you're expected to pay about £500 to £1,000 and it's an extra 35 hours. Some have actually even said, 'What's the point? Just pull it all together.' I was just wondering if you have any insight on that from your members, if that has been a barrier, and I guess, fundamentally, the question is: is this something that should be paid for by the employer or is this something that should be paid for by the Government? Because it seems to be overwhelmingly from the workers that they shouldn't be the ones who should be paying for it.

So, what we found, when talking to our members, is that they don't really see a lot of the modules that they do within the course as being relevant to their actual daily work. So, that in itself is interesting. As I said earlier, to complete the course—it has to be renewed every five years, and to complete it takes up to five days, so if you have an employer saying to someone, 'You cover the cost of this, and you do it in your own time', well that's five days of annual leave that they have to take to do it. So, we would very much come from the perspective that employers should be paying for this, that drivers need this to be able to do the job, so employers should definitely be paying for it. But I have to say that the fact that this can be covered through the Wales union learning fund is something that's unique here to Wales, and it should be applauded. And, like I said, as a trade union we will—as I know other trade unions in the sector will—be doing a lot to advertise it and make sure that members know that this exists and that they can avail themselves of it. 

12:20

Thanks. I'm just getting the technology right. I've got a bit of a technical question with regard to the working hours, so I'm going to make sure I get this right. HGV drivers that the committee has engaged with raised concerns regarding the 17-week block, known as the reference period, and drivers recommended the removal of the reference period and the averaging of a 48-hour working week during the period, replacing them with weekly or fortnightly rotas with a 48-hour working week cap. It's quite a technical question. Do you have a view on that? If it's quite complex, it would be helpful to come back with a more detailed answer, but what's your view on that?

Okay, well, it's very complex. One of the big things for our members is the conflict around drivers' time and working time. We also have issues around derogations that are built into the current rules. For instance, we have a derogation for night drivers. So, the law says that night drivers can only work for 10 hours, but you can have a derogation out of that. And for us, it makes a mockery out of it.

On the reference period, drivers should only work, on average, 48 hours over the reference period, and that statutory period is 17 weeks. But, again, there's a derogation where you can extend that up to 26 weeks. So, you make that a longer period. Now, drivers can work 60 to 70 hours at the beginning of that period and fewer towards the end. And we can look at all of these variations. And also included in that is this thing called periods of availability. And really what we need to see is that periods of availability are gotten rid of and that people are just paid properly. So, these so-called periods of availability are added into the equation for the overall working time that can be far in excess of what is the safe maximum. And Unite and trade associations and the UK Department for Transport did look at this a few years ago, at what we could do, but it was done within the confines of the European legislation, so it was found to be too difficult. But, I think there's a will across the industry, from drivers and operators, to look at it in more detail and at what is possible and what the statutory obligations should be for drivers. So, it's a very complicated issue. I know that we're looking at it at a national level, and we're developing it. And I'd be really happy to share that with the committee when that's published, which I think is going to be in the next couple of weeks. 

Okay. Thank you, Hefin. And if I can bring in Luke Fletcher. Luke. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd. I suppose this follows on, really, from some of the stuff that Hefin touched on. As he said, we did some engagement work with the sector as a committee in the run-up to this inquiry, and during that engagement work the drivers suggested the introduction of employee committees, where drivers can make representations regarding issues like rotas, route planning, rest days and pay. I was hoping you could outline your views on this proposal, please, Mary. 

Okay. Luke, you won't be surprised to hear me say that I think a unionised workplace is the best. Time and time again, it's been proven that workers in unionised workplaces get far better terms and conditions than those who aren't in a union. And we've also found that there's a really strong correlation between having a strong trade union voice in a workplace and then positive experiences in respect of being treated fairly at work and feeling in control of the working environment. That was actually work that we had commissioned from the Warwick Business School, which looked into that at the time. So, it's all about making sure that workers' voices are heard and that they're enhanced and that those members who are talking about that are elected representatives from their workforce, so that those issues and concerns are brought directly to them. And of course we would want workers to have a complete say in the sorts of issues that you've just raised.

12:25

Okay, Luke? Are there any other questions Members would like to ask? No. Well, there we are, we've therefore come to the end of our session. Can I take this opportunity to thank you for giving up your time this afternoon to give evidence to us as a committee? We will send you a transcript of today's proceedings just for accuracy purposes. If there are any issues with that, then please let us know. Thank you once again for being with us this afternoon. It's been very, very useful as far as our inquiry is concerned. Thank you very much.

6. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
6. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) to resolve to exclude the public for the remainder of the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Felly, symudwn ni nawr ymlaen i eitem 6, ac yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42, dwi'n cynnig bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod hwn. A yw Aelodau'n fodlon? Ydyn, dwi'n gweld eu bod nhw, felly derbyniwyd y cynnig, ac fe symudwn ni yn awr ymlaen i'n sesiwn breifat. Diolch yn fawr.

So, we'll now move on to item 6, and in accordance with Standing Order 17.42, I resolve that the committee excludes the public from the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content? Yes, I see that they are, therefore the motion is agreed, and we will now move into private session. Thank you.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 12:26.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 12:26.