Enginuity Group has called for government intervention to protect the UK’s manufacturing industry as the sector grapples with shortages of HGV drivers and further supply chain disruption.

A ‘perfect storm’ brought about by a Brexit exodus of European drivers, Covid testing delays at UK and European ports, self-isolation, a hiatus in training and examining HGV drivers, and summer holidays are blamed for the acute shortage of drivers, said Enginuity. The organisation said urgent talks are required before the parliamentary summer recess to avoid a “catastrophic breakdown” in the production line.

Its research shows that there are currently nearly 100,000 vacancies for HGV and delivery drivers, and more than 4,000 unfilled positions for transport planners and analysts.

Ann Watson, ceo of Enginuity Group, said: “This constitutes a very dangerous situation which threatens to derail the Covid-19 recovery.

“We are on the verge of a crisis, which threatens the viability of manufacturing across the country – we need some urgent intervention from government before the house rises for summer recess. Manufacturing is of strategic importance to the UK economy and never more so as firms seek to assert themselves globally post-Brexit. Supply chains have already seen major disruption due to parts and materials shortages caused by Covid. We are seeking a collective solution that will protect industry from the ripple effects of this crisis…

“In the short term, we are urging the government to reconsider adding foreign drivers to the Shortage Occupations list – a move which would provide some immediate easing and reduce the need to relax Drivers’ Hours rules,” she added.

While a driver shortage has been an issue in the transport and logistics sector for some time now, the worsening situation can also be linked to the high levels of staff having to self-isolate as a result of Covid-19 – something that is affecting a number of sectors in the UK.

According to Tim Morris, chief executive of the UK Major Ports Group (UKMPG), UK ports are among those experiencing significant disruption caused by staff shortages.

Morris explained that many port operators are seeing rocketing numbers of staff having to isolate after being contacted by the NHS Covid app. “We are seeing some port operators with 10 percent of their workforce having to isolate and worrying trajectories at other major UK gateways.”

He added: “In many cases this is the worst absence situation that ports have experienced through the whole pandemic. Ports have done a great job of remaining open as the gateways for 95 percent of the UK’s trade throughout the pandemic, but we can’t isolate ourselves totally from the broader trends in the population. What we need are protocols that better reflect the vaccination status of key workers.”