Army on standby to stock Britain’s shelves: Up to 2,000 HGV drivers from Royal Logistics Corps are on five-day to notice to deliver food and essentials to UK supermarkets due to shortage of 100,000 truckers
- The Government is expected to make a formal request to the military for help ‘imminently’ to cope with crisis
- Thousands of prospective drivers are waiting for their HGV tests due to a backlog caused by the pandemic
- Problem has been exacerbated in recent months by scores of ‘pinged’ drivers having to go into self-isolation
The Army is on standby to cope with Britain’s food shortages caused by a lack of qualified truck drivers which has left many supermarket shelves bare in recent weeks.
Some 2,000 HGV drivers from the Royal Logistics Corps and other regiments are reported to be on a five-day notice to help distribute food and other essential supplies, including medicine.
The Government is expected to make a formal request for assistance to the military ‘imminently’.
It comes after the Road Haulage Association warned in late July that there was a shortage of 100,000 lorry drivers in the UK, which has been hampering deliveries of food from warehouses to supermarkets.
Thousands of prospective drivers are waiting for their HGV tests due to a backlog caused by lockdown, while many existing ones have left the UK after Brexit.
The problem has been exacerbated by Covid, with drivers having to go into self-isolation.
Some 2,000 HGV drivers from the Royal Logistics Corps and other regiments are reported to be on a five-day notice to help distribute food and other essential supplies, including medicine (Pictured: Army delivering medicine supplies in March last year)
A source said the Government is sending messages out to all Army personnel with HGV qualifications (Pictures: Military truck delivering supplies to a London hospital during the height of the first Covid wave last year)
A source told The Sun on Sunday: ‘Messages are being sent out to all Army personnel with HGV qualifications.
‘They are being put on five-day standby notice for driving jobs at major distribution centres around the country.
‘Soldiers will be put up in hotels where necessary and will be working extended hours to assist with the crisis.
‘They will be involved with food distribution as well as the transportation of other essential goods and medical supplies.’
The military intervention will form part of Operation Rescript, an ongoing operation which was launched to tackle issues relating to the Covid pandemic.
It comes after the Government temporarily extended the maximum number of shift hours for drivers from nine to 10 last month, allowing them make longer journeys, however it was not enough.
James Bielby, head of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD), called for military intervention back in June.
He said: ‘The situation has reached crisis point and it is likely to get worse as more hospitality venues open and demand increases.
It comes after the Road Haulage Association warned in late July that there was a shortage of 100,000 lorry drivers in the UK, which has been hampering deliveries of food from warehouses to supermarkets (file photo)
‘The Government needs to act very quickly.
‘We are concerned enough to suggest that the Government considers having Army trucks on standby to ensure there are enough vehicles and drivers to distribute food.’
Premier Foods, one of Britain’s biggest food companies, made a similar suggestion during a meeting between industry representatives and the Department of Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra).
While the Government insisted there were ‘no plans to use military personnel in this scenario’, a source claims the MoD has been in talks with Defra over the crisis, telling the Sun on Sunday: ‘HGV drivers in the Royal Logistics Corps have been told they are on five days’ notice. The call is expected by the end of September.’
Rod McKenzie, the RHA’s managing director of policy and public affairs, said the lorry driver shortage was ‘a very serious threat to the supply chain’.
He added: ‘There is a critical shortage of lorry drivers and the Government are using short-term measures to address this.’
Empty supermarket shelves have been pictured across the country in recent weeks (pictured: Morrisons in Edinburgh)
Dairy giant Arla said in June: ‘There is a real crunch this Summer because of Covid causing a backlog of new drivers passing their tests, changes to tax rules, some drivers from EU countries returning home, some others on furlough and other factors.’ (Pictured: Empty shelves in Sainsbury’s in Cambridgeshire this week)
He branded the extending of shift hours a ‘terrible move’ and said it was not adopted by many firms as it was deemed dangerous – but does not think the Army is the answer either.
He said: ‘The Government’s next step is to bring in the Army. There are 2,000 qualified HGV drivers in the Army. We’re 100,000 lorry drivers short.
‘Another issue is Army drivers are used to driving Army lorries and not civilian vehicles.
‘Once again, they are using a short-term fix. It is not a good idea. We need to address what to do to get another 100,000 drivers.’
Industry leaders have been warning about driver shortages for months, branding it a ‘crisis of national importance.’
Empty supermarket shelves have been pictured across the country in recent weeks.
Dairy giant Arla said in June: ‘There is a real crunch this Summer because of Covid causing a backlog of new drivers passing their tests, changes to tax rules, some drivers from EU countries returning home, some others on furlough and other factors.
NHS figures show 395,971 alerts in England and Wales were sent in the seven days up to July 28, down from 690,129 the week before
People pinged by the NHS app made up 42 per cent of the isolation alerts sent out during the week ending July 28. Some 38 per cent were contacts who were called by NHS Test and Trace directly, while 20 per cent were people testing positive
In total 947,868 people were asked to isolate, with 362,665 contacts reached by call handlers and 189,232 testing positive themselves
‘Like many others in the industry we are seeing costs go up and we’re working hard to limit the effect this will have on prices.
‘There has been a growing shortage of haulage drivers for many years. It is really important that we attract many new drivers into the sector.’
The managing director of Nationwide Produce, which supplies fruit and veg to major restaurant chains and retailers, Tim O’Malley, added: ‘The acute shortage of HGV drivers is now the direct cause of perfectly good, graded and packed fresh produce being dumped or left rotting in cold stores, waiting for wheels to go under it.
‘Supermarket shelves and restaurant plates are going empty, and this is now a crisis of national importance.’
In an attempt to fix the pingdemic chaos, ministers have already announced fully-vaccinated people who are told to self-isolate either by the NHS app or Test and Trace will no longer have to do so from August 16.
The same update has already been adopted in Wales, having come into force on Saturday.
The pingdemic has seen hundreds of train services affected or cancelled due to a lack of staff while one in ten pubs and restaurants have been forced to shut temporarily.
July saw more than 300 Transport for London staff told to self-isolate after being ‘pinged’.
However the chaos may finally be easing, according to official data which revealed the number of alerts sent by the controversial app fell by 43 per cent last week.
NHS statistics released Thursday show 395,971 self-isolation pings were sent in England and Wales in the seven days ending July 28 — down from the record-high 690,129 the week before.
But the drop was mainly fuelled by the fall in actual cases, given the tweak to make the app less disruptive did not kick in until the start of August.
In total, 950,000 quarantine alerts were dished out across the week – compared to rates of 1.5million during the most chaotic parts of the third wave. Nearly 190,000 people tested positive and 360,000 of their close contacts were tracked down.
It marks a steep turn in the direction of the self-isolation mayhem, which sentenced millions to house arrest.
Thousands of people have deleted the app in recent weeks to avoid the alerts, which tell people they have been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for coronavirus.
But its ‘pings’ are merely guidance and not legally enforceable, unlike instructions from Test and Trace call handlers.
Earlier this week health chiefs announced that the app was being updated so fewer contacts will be instructed to isolate.
It now only finds close contacts from up to two days before infected people tested positive. Previously, it had trawled through five days of a user’s Bluetooth history.
Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M) which advises ministers, insisted the app is still ‘incredibly useful’, despite the swathes of people being asked to isolate.
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