Not only are there widely-reported shortages of many common building products, there is also a shortage of HGV drivers to deliver what materials are available. And that is exacerbating the shortages.
Members of the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) report widespread disruption and delays, with a shortfall in drivers able to transport goods into their stores and out to sites.
“Drivers are our biggest concern at present,” said BMF East Midlands regional chairman Jim Parlato, a director at Browns Builders Merchant. “We have two of our warehouse and yard operatives taking their tests shortly but getting courses and booking tests has become an issue with demand meaning months of waiting.”
The BMF says that limited test slots are preventing staff from taking HGV driving tests, while holiday plans over the summer further reduce driver availability.
The issue comes as figures from The Road Haulage Association (RHA) show an existing deficit of 60,000 lorry drivers has been compounded by 15,000 EU drivers leaving the UK and the cancellation of 30,000 HGV driving tests during the pandemic.
Drivers themselves say that the biggest issues are pay and conditions. The government’s solution is a temporary extension of drivers' hours rules, to make existing qualified drivers work longer – yet they already do 13-hour days interspersed with regular 15-hour days.
While the haulage industry clearly has recruitment problems, with an aging driver profile, the issues are leading to extended lead times and failed deliveries for the building trade.
BMF Southwest regional chairman, David Young, of Bradfords Building Supplies, said: “We have 16 LGV driver vacancies at the moment. We’re struggling to recruit and also no agency cover is available due to demand. The knock-on effect is lead times to our customers are extended by a day, from one-to-two days to two-to-three days.
“We do have 22 internal drivers being trained up but there are not enough test slots available so this is taking longer than normal. Suppliers to builders’ merchants have also been hit by the shortfall, resulting in restrictions on some products and failed deliveries at short notice.”
BMF Anglia regional chairman Hugh Guntrip, of Huws Gray, added: “We are struggling to recruit new and replacement drivers within our merchant branches. The largest impact is on our suppliers, resulting in product restrictions and failed incoming deliveries at very short notice.”
BMF chief executive John Newcomb said: “It is clear that there is a major deficit of HGV drivers and issues with training and supporting new recruits into the role, and this is now causing delayed deliveries and rising costs across the UK.”
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said in a recent Tweet: “We’re aware of a shortage of HGV drivers, so I'm announcing a temp extension of drivers' hours rules from Mon 12 July, giving flexibility to drivers & operators to make slightly longer journeys. We've ramped up the number of driving tests available & will consider other measures.”