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Still on the bridge

It’s that time of year when students return to uni, which meant the panic buying of fuel coincided most unfortunately for me with an unavoidable and long car journey at the weekend. It was a struggle to get petrol, and on the long distance round trip we passed as many petrol forecourts blocked off by orange cones as we did ones with queues of cars. It feels as though the situation has worsened, not improved, in the few days since then.

Pay, working conditions, red tape, hostile attitudes, drivers quitting in droves following the Covid lockdowns, the failure to train and approve new HGV operators combined with a Brexit-inspired exodus are among the mix of reasons behind the tanker-driver shortage. If only the solutions were as numerous. Currently they seem to amount to two: the army or 5,000 emergency work permits for overseas drivers - or 100,000 if you are Labour leader Kier Starmer.

That 100k figure is one estimate of the UK’s current driver shortfall and even if it’s not accurate it suggests a rather terrifying lack of planning by various departments, organisations and employers. Beyond the fuel-supply issue though lurks the worry that the driver shortage is one more force that will push up the prices of goods and services. Increases which will come on top of soaring shipping costs, and sky high gas price rises for businesses and consumers.

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