ARMY HGV drivers have been put on standby to relieve Britain’s chronic shortage of truckers and resulting food shortages.
A formal request from the Government for military help is expected imminently.
Around 2,000 HGV drivers from the Royal Logistics Corps and other regiments are being put on a five-day notice to assist with distribution of food and essential supplies.
The emergency measure is being taken as the shortage of qualified truckers in the UK reaches crisis point.
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.”
It is understood the action plan will be carried out under the banner of Operation Rescript, the British military’s ongoing response to Covid.
Britain has a shortage of 100,000 truck drivers and the situation worsened with the test and trace pingdemic. It has left some supermarket shelves empty and major food companies struggling to cope with demand.
Last month, the Government temporarily extended drivers’ working time rules, from nine to ten hours, allowing them to make longer journeys. But the measure, described by the Road Haulage Association (RHA) as a “sticking plaster”, has not been enough to solve distribution problems.
Premier Foods, one of Britain’s biggest food companies, recently called on the Government to consider using the Army.
Their call for military intervention came at a meeting between officials from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and food industry representatives. At the meeting, Chris Hall, head of logistics at Asda, said the supermarket giant was “just about keeping our head above water”.
Very serious threat to the supply chain
The Government insisted after the meeting, “there are no plans to use military personnel in this scenario”. However, it is understood the MoD has been in discussions with DEFRA over the transport crisis.
The source said: “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.”
Mr McKenzie said the extension of drivers’ working hours was a “terrible move” which had been rejected by many firms as dangerous. He also feels enlisting the Army is “not a good idea”.
He added: “The Government’s next step is to bring in the Army. There are 2,000 qualified HGV drivers in the Army. [But] 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.” Meanwhile, it has emerged that short regional lockdowns could return this winter amid fears a spike in Covid cases could overrun the NHS.
A government source said: “Should more lockdowns be necessary, the plan is for them to be short and preferably in school holidays in October and over Christmas. Firebreaks, rather than lasting for months.”
Downing Street confirmed the plan, with a spokesman saying: “We have to be prepared to respond to unexpected events.”
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