The former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said: “Don’t blame Brexit for driver shortages – our brainless bureaucracy is the real culprit.” He placed the blame for the haulage personnel shortages on the knock-on effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
He added: “Covid exposed just how sluggish our institutions can be, and now we are paying the price.”
In an article published in the Telegraph, Mr Duncan Smith reflected: “It is seldom policy issues that determine how governments are viewed by the public, but how they handle unexpected events.”
“The Government is finding just how difficult it can be to retain control while being buffeted by the unexpected.”
He uses the example of the HGV driver shortage currently sparking panic buying and long queues at forecourts up and down the country.
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Images circulated on social media of some drivers filling up jerry cans as well as their vehicles when their turn at a petrol station came in a flurry of panic-buying.
The Government then decided to suspend competition law meaning that oil companies will deliver fuel to any petrol station with no supplies.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “While there has always been and continues to be plenty of fuel at refineries and terminals, we are aware that there have been some issues with supply chains.
“This is why we will enact the Downstream Oil Protocol to ensure industry can share vital information and work together more effectively to ensure disruption is minimised.
“The reality is that, all over Europe, when countries locked down many drivers went home and many more were furloughed, then retired.”
He looked back critically, saying: “This was made worse as all testing of new drivers was stopped, something which could have been avoided, particularly if the authorities had used available Covid PCR or lateral-flow tests to allow prospective drivers to qualify.”
He also scorned the Confederation of British Industry for what he sees as short-sightedness in failing to train the next generation of HGV drivers in the UK.
He said: “The Confederation of British Industry, which quickly blamed Brexit for the current shortages, instead should recognise that industry leaders themselves must shoulder a significant measure of blame.”
He remembered when, as Work and Pensions Secretary, he “questioned why hauliers did so little to invest in their industry by training drivers, particularly when the shortages were already becoming unknown, the hauliers responded that British people wouldn’t do the job.”
He also criticised the introduction of temporary visas for HGV drivers from Europe, valid until December 24, 2021.
He said: “I’m not sure how visa changes will help much now, when all Europe is also searching for drivers.”
Mr Duncan Smith ended by asserting that “a reputation for competence is vital for a government.”
“It’s in the Government’s hands” to decide whether the HGV driver shortage will bolster the Government or “damage” their credibility, he concluded.
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