Grant Shapps Says "Very, Very Few" Foreign Lorry Drivers Have Taken Up UK Visas
Just "dozens" of overseas lorry drivers have joined the UK fleet since the government opened its emergency visa scheme, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said.
Last month ministers announced that 5,000 HGV drivers from abroad would be able to work in the UK under a visa scheme lasting until March.
The move was in response a severe shortage of lorry drivers which has caused disruption across the supply chain, leading to empty supermarket shelves, household names like McDonald's and Greggs running out of products, and more recently a huge backlog of deliveries at Felixstowe Port.
However, Shapps has now admitted that "very, very few" foreign lorry drivers had been added to the country's pool of drivers since the scheme was launched.
"Just dozens, not hundreds or thousands," he told host LBC's Nick Ferrari on Friday morning.
On Wednesday Conservative party chair Oliver Dowden told the same radio station that the government had approved just twenty of around 300 visa applications.
The scheme was criticised for being unappealing to overseas drivers when it was unveiled, primarily because those who acquire visas would have to leave the country just a few months later.
The UK is short of around 100,000 lorry drivers, the Road Haulage Association estimates.
Shapps suggested the low number of applications vindicated the government's long-standing argument that relaxing immigration rules was not the best response to the UK's labour shortages.
"We always said we don't think this is the answer," he said, adding that the government created the scheme in response to haulage groups "insisting it was the answer".
Asked why the government relaxed visa rules if it didn't believe it would necessarily work, the Transport Secretary said: "It is right that you test every avenue, isn't it?
"If you've got something like this happening and you want to have a look then you leave no stone unturned. We turned that stone. It's not the solution that some in haulauge thought it was."
Shapps said measures put in place by the government to make lorry driving a more appealing profession had led to three times as many people applying compared to before the pandemic.
There are also now more spaces available for people to take lorry driving tests, he said, telling LBC that there were 615 tests available for those who want them this week.
The government is under pressure tackle ongoing supply disruption amid warnings that there will be shortages of popular food and other goods this Christmas.
In a bid to reduce disruption, Shapps on Thursday night announced that the government would temporarily extend cabotage relaxations so lorry drivers can make unlimited journeys in the UK within a two-week window.
George Eustice, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, last night announced that 800 overseas butchers would be allowed to come to the UK for six months in order to help clear the growing backlog of pigs on farms across the country.
Ministers had been under growing pressure to relax immigration rules for abbattoir workers amid warnings from farmers that they would have to cull tens of thousands of healthy pigs without government intervention.
A spokesperson for the National Pig Association said it was "so very relieved" by the announcement.
"We are working with the processors to understand the impact of these new measures and to determine exactly what will happen now, and how quickly, so that we can give pig farmers some hope and stem the flow of healthy pigs currently having to be culled on farms," they said.
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