The plan is to have more recruits trained to drive lorries over the next 12 weeks in time for Christmas to plug the HGV driver shortage which has left supermarket shelves bare
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More than 10,000 foreign workers will be temporarily permitted to work as lorry drivers and in the food sector as ministers look to rescue Christmas from supply shortages.
A temporary visa scheme will see opportunities created for 5,000 HGV drivers and 5,500 poultry workers to take up employment in the UK until Christmas Eve.
The move has been taken in a bid to keep supermarket shelves stocked with turkeys and toys as well as counter delivery difficulties at petrol stations.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the changes, with the visas available from next month, would “ensure preparations remain on track” for the festive season.
Retailers had warned the Government that it had just 10 days to save Christmas from “significant disruption” due to a shortfall of about 90,000 drivers in the freight sector.
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Meanwhile military HGV test examiners are being drafted in to get 4,000 British truckers onto UK roads.
The plan is to have more recruits trained to drive lorries over the next 12 weeks in time for Christmas to plug the HGV driver shortage which has left supermarket shelves bare.
But Andrew Opie of the British Retail Consortium said it was not enough.
He added: “The limit of 5,000 visas will do little to alleviate the current shortfall.
“Supermarkets estimate they need at least 15,000 HGV drivers for their businesses to be able to operate at full capacity ahead of Christmas.”
A million letters are also going out to all drivers who currently hold an HGV licence encouraging them back into the industry.
But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps warned hauliers yesterday this is a short-term fix and they must not rely on overseas labour.
He said: “We are acting now but the industries must also play their part with salary increases to retain new drivers.”
Environment Secretary George Eustice added: “We are acting to alleviate what is a very tight labour market.”
The visa scheme is also to be extended to 5,500 foreign poultry workers so shoppers can get their turkeys in time for Christmas.
The Department for Education is joining the big recruitment drive with a £10million scheme for Skills Bootcamps to train 3,000 of the drivers while the other 1,000 will take local adult education courses.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “We are taking action to tackle the shortage of drivers by removing barriers to help more people to launch new careers.”
The three emergency services and the MoD will conduct driving tests for one another to free up other examiners.
Food and Drink Federation boss Ian Wright said: “This is something UK food and drink manufacturers have asked for over the last few months.
“This is a start but we need the Government to collaborate with industry and seek long term solutions.”