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The UK’s driver shortage is hiking prices for freight companies and could lead to delays at Heathrow, according to sources at the airport.

The main concern is finding drivers with airside security, said one handling specialist. “Our Service Level Agreements are all about speed – and those have become a bit closer to the wind that we’d like them to be,” one manager told The Loadstar.

“You can’t just go to an agency to get an airside driver, they need to be level-D trained – and that has challenges.”

Another local company added: “It can be a struggle to get drivers for airside jobs. Pay versus risk is not aligned – airside drivers can be held to account for any damage, and are not paid very highly.”

Freight companies have noted that lead times are being affected, and costs are rising. Glenn Hall, manager of Norbert Dentressangle’s Perishables Handling Centre, which operates 10 trucks, said: “We are having to go to an agency, and we need to pay more money, off the back of the new CPC rules.

“It’s certainly a problem at the moment – although I don’t feel it as badly as my colleagues in transport.”

However, John Kwijuka, business development manager for RFS company Van Swieten Air Cargo, said the impact was bigger on domestic or smaller companies.

“We are aware of the shortage and are monitoring the situation. However, as our operations span most major EU airports, I find that it’s relatively easier to get drivers in other European countries rather than in the UK. I also recognise that some SME hauliers might not necessarily have the scope and leverage to engage in other EU markets in the search for drivers.”

Mr Hall welcomed the warehouse-to-wheels programme, launched last year across the UK logistics industry, which sees warehouse staff retrained by companies as drivers.

“Companies are going to have to be smarter about bringing talent through,” he said. “The warehouse-to-wheels programme is good because it develops talent you already have, and that means you have engaged employees. But it will take a number of years for the new drivers to come through.”

It certainly won’t be soon enough to cover this year’s holiday season. The Freight Transport Association has warned that its members “have genuine concerns over their ability to deliver Christmas this year. The pool of agency drivers is just not there, and with the economy improving, a greater number is needed”.

The UK freight forwarding association, BIFA, has also warned that the driver shortage “could wreak havoc this Christmas”.

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