Up to 4,000 people will be trained up as new HGV drivers as part of a package of measures that will help tackle the driver shortage, the government has announced.
The Department for Education says it is investing up to £10m for new, free “skills bootcamps”, which will train 3,000 people to drive lorries in short, intensive courses.
A further 1,000 people will be trained through local courses that have been funded centrally by the adult education budget, the department says.
It will be supported by the Ministry of Defence, which will deploy driving test examiners to help increase testing capacity over the next three months.
In the run up to Christmas, 5,000 fuel tanker and food lorry drivers will be allowed into the UK for three months, in an effort to provide short-term relief to the industry, with visas valid until 24 December. Some 5,000 poultry workers will also be allowed into the UK on the same terms.
To show its appreciation for working during a time of increased pressures, the Department for Transport will send letters to nearly one million HGV drivers, thanking them for their work and setting out how it will be trying to improve the industry.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “This package of measures builds on the important work we have already done to ease this global crisis in the UK, and this government continues to do everything we can to help the haulage and food industries contend with the HGV driver shortage.
“We are acting now but the industries must also play their part with working conditions continuing to improve and the deserved salary increases continuing to be maintained in order for companies to retain new drivers.
“After a very difficult 18 months, I know how important this Christmas is for all of us and that’s why we’re taking these steps at the earliest opportunity to ensure preparations remain on track.”
The country is estimated as needing 100,000 more HGV drivers if it is to meet demand, according to the Road Haulage Association (RHA).
Rod McKenzie, from the organisation, told Sky News it is a “critical situation” and a “cocktail of chaos” had led to the crisis.
The pandemic has seen many foreign HGV drivers return to their home countries and the “vast majority” have not returned, according to the RHA.
It added that the “uncertainty of Brexit and future rights to live and work in the UK” forced many drivers to leave the country.