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Watch: 'Not in hands' of government to guarantee enough lorries on roads for Christmas deliveries - transport secretary
It is "not in the hands" of ministers to guarantee there will be enough lorries on the roads to deliver presents on time this Christmas, the transport secretary has told MPs.
Grant Shapps made the comment as he faced questions in the House of Commons about the HGV staff shortage.
He was asked by Labour MP Diana Johnson if he could "guarantee that there won't be shortages and empty shelves at Christmas because of the shortage of HGV drivers".
Mr Shapps replied: "What I can guarantee is we will do everything we possibly can to enable more HGV drivers to pass their tests to get on to the roads, to have better conditions, and the raft of other measures that we have discussed.
But the transport secretary added that the "whole solution is not in our hands, this is a global situation that has been described many times during this debate".
Almost 50,000 drivers have left the road in the last two years thanks to a combination of the pandemic and Brexit, leaving hauliers struggling to keep trucks on the road and businesses in multiple sectors struggling to keep up with demand.
The UK economy's reliance on road haulage means sectors across the economy have been affected, from supermarkets and restaurants that have reported food shortages, to public health, with delays to deliveries of flu vaccinations and the water purification chemicals required to process sewage.
Mr Shapps insisted the COVID-19 pandemic was the "number one cause" for the shortfall of 90,000 drivers - not Brexit.
"I am not going to stand here and deny that there haven't been big changes to the way our industry is operating but no-one can realistically deny that those problems had been coming along for a very long time," he told MPs.
"If there is a number one cause, it quite clearly is the pandemic."
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And he claimed other countries were faring worse, adding: "We have seen the figures from Poland of a 120,000 shortage, for example, so it is a global problem that we will work day and night, every day that we can, to secure supply, but all the answers do not lie in the hands of the government to do that."
Mr Shapps said measures announced last week will "significantly increase the number of HGV driving tests by up to 50,000 per year".
He said: "First, we will eliminate the need for some car drivers who want to tow a trailer to take an additional test... allowing about 30,000 more HGV tests every single year.
"Second, tests will also be made more efficient by removing the reversing exercise element and vehicles with trailers. The uncoupling and recoupling exercise, having that test separately carried out by a third party so, it's still being done.
"Third, we're making it quicker to get a licence to drive an articulated vehicle without first having to get a licence for a smaller vehicle and this will make around 20,000 more HGV tests available every year."
Mr Shapps also told the Commons that he had told the DVLA to prioritise the processing of licence applications and sought assurances that the supply chain for medical supplies would be protected.
But Labour's shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said the changes were "far too little and far too late" and accused the transport secretary of being "asleep at the wheel".
He said: "We've all seen constant examples of businesses impacted by supply chain disruption... we've all seen supermarket shelves empty and now it's affecting the delivery of vital medical supplies.
"We've already seen the number of people wanting to do their HGV driving test literally fall off a cliff, with only 9,000 being completed in 2019, that was before Brexit and it was well before COVID.
"Industry's been warning of this crisis for years but the secretary of state has been asleep at the wheel."
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