DOMINIC LAWSON: Lorry drivers making £54,000? It’s proof universities aren’t the only road to prosperity
Children often know what they want to be when they ‘grow up’. But parents have their own view of the suitability of their child’s long-held ambition.
The brother of a friend of mine only ever wanted to be, from an early age, a lorry driver. He passed all the necessary tests, and even as a student did shifts.
But his family was a grand one, with a large estate, and his father told him: ‘I didn’t send you to Eton and Oxford University for you to be a lorry driver.’ So he went into a more ‘respectable’ career — and did very well.
But he still has his HGV licence: now in his 50s, perhaps he will at last be able to demonstrate just how socially useful his lorry-driving skills are — and also make much more money out of it than would have been the case until recently.
There is a national shortage of qualified lorry drivers and, as the Sunday Times reported yesterday. (Stock image)
It is true that you don’t have to get a degree for lorry-driving. But it seems to me that it requires enormous levels of sustained concentration. (Stock image)
For there is a national shortage of qualified lorry drivers and, as the Sunday Times reported yesterday, Waitrose is now offering up to £53,780 a year to Large Goods Vehicle drivers.
This is significantly more than its parent company, the John Lewis Partnership, is offering in job advertisements for a pensions specialist (£46,000) or a finance analyst (£46,700).
The average national salary for an economist is £45,390, and anyone qualified for that would be the first to understand why they might now be paid less than a lorry driver. It’s all to do with supply and demand.
The latter has been boosted by what is called the ‘delivery economy’. Like other supermarkets, Waitrose offers delivery direct to homes.
On the other side of the equation are factors suppressing the supply of drivers. The most cited is Brexit, in the sense that thousands of drivers from the EU — those who didn’t apply for ‘settled status’ here — have withdrawn from the UK.
But as Julian Jessop, an independent economist of admirable clarity, has written, trouble at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency — partly the result of Covid restrictions and partly industrial action — has been a significant factor: ‘Restrictions on training and driving tests mean that the number of people qualifying as new [HGV] drivers in the UK fell from its usual level of around 40,000 to just 15,000 last year.
‘This alone explains more than half the recent increase in the estimated shortfall of drivers.’
And when the Road Haulage Association asked firms to give reasons for the ‘lorry driver shortage’, 48 per cent of respondents blamed ‘drivers leaving for other industries’ and 47 per cent cited ‘unsatisfactory pay rates’.
This certainly emerged in a letter from an HGV driver published in the Times last week.
Max Marsden wrote: ‘The big retailers have inflicted this situation on themselves. For years the value of haulage contracts has been driven down, particularly by the big supermarket chains . . .
‘As for [departing] European drivers,’ he continued, ‘I have worked with many and Brexit has nothing to do with it.’
Those same big retailers are now begging the Government to put lorry driving on the ‘skilled worker shortage’ occupation list, which would offer any lorry driver from outside the UK a visa to work here.
But the Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, rejected the British Retail Consortium’s plea, telling them: ‘I am sure you would agree on the importance of utilising the strength of our domestic workforce . . . to ensure UK-based workers are better able to secure decent employment opportunities.’
Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, rejected the British Retail Consortium’s plea
Independent economist Julian Jessop (left) and James Clifford (right), the chief executive of HGVT
That, after all, was meant to be one of the reasons for Brexit (for which Kwarteng campaigned): to make non-skilled employment in this country less vulnerable to downward pressure on wages from effectively unlimited immigration.
On the other hand, there is something rather insulting in describing HGV driving as ‘unskilled’.
It is true that you don’t have to get a degree for lorry-driving. But it seems to me that it requires enormous levels of sustained concentration. The slightest lapse could be fatal.
I am not surprised that the effect in recent years of wage suppression has caused many to leave the business, and fewer young people have stepped in to fill the gap left by retirees.
Not only is there a great sole individual responsibility (not true of many ‘executive’ roles), the hours can be punishing, and the absence of the company of fellow humans for many hours at a time is not to everyone’s taste.
But now that the terms of trade are changing, we should expect more young people to consider this vital role in keeping the wheels of commerce running smoothly.
After all, the student newspaper, The Tab, recently pointed out that in ten of the most popular degree courses, the ‘earning potential after five years of graduating’ is below £25,000 a year. Or less than half what Waitrose is now offering LGV drivers
Especially when they hear from James Clifford, the chief executive of HGVT, which trains drivers: ‘Truck drivers are being treated like royalty… the numbers being offered are crazy.’
Something to be considered as an alternative, perhaps, by those young people thinking of racking up debts to pay for a university degree course?
After all, the student newspaper, The Tab, recently pointed out that in ten of the most popular degree courses, the ‘earning potential after five years of graduating’ is below £25,000 a year. Or less than half what Waitrose is now offering LGV drivers.
I’m sure any upper-class youngster who aspired to being a lorry driver would still be discouraged by his parents. It is not a job with social status. But we can’t do without them — which is, in a way, the highest status of all.
A BBC tip is OK . . . as long as it’s on a horse
Have you ever wondered why there are no programmes on TV or radio about investment in the stock market?
Given how much of our savings are wrapped up in its frequently mystifying movements, and how it provides vital finance to British business, this absence is odd.
So odd, in fact, that Lord Lee of Trafford, a champion of small investors, has tabled a parliamentary question on this matter.
Lord Lee pointed out that with the increase in young and inexperienced people trading in shares online, it is more vital than ever that broadcasters address this matter (newspapers have always done so).
Nine years ago, the programme’s sports presenter, Garry Richardson, launched an email poll of listeners to find out if they wanted the programme to continue with the racing tips
It seems the problem is a regulatory one. Executives feel fettered by rules set by the broadcasting overseer Ofcom, which in turn cites the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000.
One broadcaster explained: ‘We are constrained by strict regulation in this area: we have to stop short of promoting, recommending or appearing to recommend particular shares and investments.’
As Lord Lee argues, it is ‘ludicrous’ that such an attitude is taken when at the same time the amount of gambling advertisements on British commercial TV is monstrous.
And not only do the vast majority of gamblers lose money, a losing bet sees the entire investment forfeited immediately: that’s the equivalent of a stock market-quoted company going bankrupt the same day that you bought shares in it.
Here’s my (non-parliamentary) question: if it is against the rules for broadcasters to make anything which could be construed as a share tip, how is it that Radio 4’s Today programme is free to give racing tips daily?
I can even recall that Today’s slot on the BBC website once displayed an ‘Ascot Tipster Challenge’, giving extensive details of the performance of various tipsters across the week’s racing.
In fact, nine years ago, the programme’s sports presenter, Garry Richardson, launched an email poll of listeners to find out if they wanted the programme to continue with the racing tips. This (self-selecting) poll returned a clear majority in favour of continuing.
I still think there’s something perverse in a national broadcaster which encourages pure gambling but thinks it’s dodgy to give the British people advice on responsible investment.
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