Ask the Sage

If you asked the Sage of Ely whether free movement of labour reduced wages you would be told not to be so silly. If you insisted that immigration might, under certain circumstances, be the reason for low UK wages you’d be called a racist fascist:

What there is, yet again, is a breakdown in the supply chain due to a shortage of lorry drivers. And the reason why there is a shortage of lorry drivers is that Brexit and government intransigence has tipped what was already a delicate labour market into crisis.

There is no short term resolution to that crisis. The UK government has decided to alienate and even expel a significant part of a labour force on which the country has relied and has, despite warning being given, chosen to do nothing to ameliorate the situation until it is now too late for anything it might do to relieve that labour shortage. So, like it or not, we do not have the drivers that we need, and nothing can now be done about it.

The absence of free movement of labour increasing wages is not proof that you’re not a racist fascist.

26 thoughts on “Ask the Sage”

  1. If the government has ‘expelled a significant part of a labour force’ back to Europe, why is Europe experiencing the same shortage of HGV drivers, then?

  2. And then there’s full employment and a unique opportunity to get out of a job that is getting worse into something less demanding and better paying. Did the pay rises given to supermarket delivery drivers result in tanker drivers (who have extra credentials making the traffic one way) going over to groceries?

  3. The Governemnt stopped performing driving tests for HGV licences for over a year, because of ‘lockdown’ aka bone-idle civil service parasites couldn’t be arsed to turn up for work.

    So the pool of drivers had 1 year’s retirements, and is missing 1 year new intakes. Thereby size of pool reduced.
    I’d think even a professor could understand that.

    But it is yet another proof that no situation is so awful that it cannot be f*cked up worse by a politician.

  4. “Is there nothing that Brexit cannot do?”

    A combination of Thatcher and Brexit can be blamed for everything that has possibly gone wrong in the UK within the last 3000 years, and the next 3000 years to boot.

  5. People are demanding we import drivers. Where from? Where are the hoards (or even hordes) of unemployed drivers? They are already working as drivers in places where the benefits are better than the costs of working here. If they weren’t, they’d already be here.

    Importing drivers will just result in Foreign having a shortage of drivers. They can’t get it into their heads that humans beings are a finite resource.

  6. They have been complaining for months that self-isolation has prevented drivers from working – but as soon as there are headlines about driver shortages it’s suddenly the fault of Brexit.

  7. “The Governemnt stopped performing driving tests for HGV licences for over a year, because of ‘lockdown’ aka bone-idle civil service parasites couldn’t be arsed to turn up for work.”

    And the situation’s the same in any country that locked down. I gather Spain’s short of of drivers.

  8. “If you asked the Sage of Ely…”

    Bollocks to that Tim, I told him so directly about 7 years ago. And in response he and his friend Howard Reed (also not an economist) were adamant, aggressively so, that imported low wage labour from Eastern Europe, indeed anywhere, had no effect whatsoever on wage rates at the lower end of the UK labour market.

    So he is left with claiming that the 100,000 shortage of lorry drivers is due to 20,000 European drivers being “expelled”.

    This is of course an ‘expulsion’ that nobody noticed or commented on. Which might lead a cynic to conclude it didn’t happen.

  9. @jgh – “Where from?”

    From anywhere. We just have to offer a larger salary and make immigration cheap and easy. The alternative is that we go to the time and expense of training more people here. Just as with free movement of goods, free movement of people allocates jobs more rationally. For example, it would be disastrous to restrict things further, by saying that only from Yorkshire could work in Yorkshire etc.

  10. Bloke in North Dorset

    There is no short term resolution to that crisis.

    Has he proposed that what the situation needs is a Fat Controller to sort it out, accompanied by MOAR taxes, obviously?

  11. Ironman

    Reed is the definition of evil – truly demonic in intent and a staunch supporter (still) of an anti semite the likes of which hadn’t been seen in the Uk since the 1930s

  12. Bloke in North Dorset

    I don’t suppose Spud’s been calling for a windfall tax on HGV1 drivers? I’ve just been listening to a claim that one company is thinking about offering £78k pa.

    On a more serious note, reading about the job its the hours as in being really weird and bureaucracy that is causing many to leave the industry.

  13. “We just have to offer a larger salary and make immigration cheap and easy.”

    But “we” don’t want to offer larger salaries, that’s exactly why the demand for cheap foreigners. Otherwise, the offer of higher salaries would already be solving the problem by drawing people in from other occupations.

    Ah… but that’s exactly what the supermarkets did, isn’t it? 10% wage increase and a signing-on bonus, sod driving petrol tankers, I’ll drive a grocery van. Ooops, where have all the tanker drivers gone? I’ve had colleagues leaving IT to take up better-paying jobs stacking shelves.

  14. Who else drives for a living? I predict shrieks of horror as dustbinmen drop the shit and crud and go off to be nice comfy delivery drivers. We’ve already got people saying “sod that” to care work to take up shelf stacking, accompanied by wails of “import more foreigners!!!!!”

  15. HGV driving is pretty boring and unskilled, until you actually have to reverse the bloody artic. No wonder there’s a shortage, wages have been stagnant for years.

  16. The Spectator had a nice little article by an actual HGV driver (ie a proper working man, not a middle class journalist writing about something he knows the square root of bugger all about, which is most articles these days) explaining why no-one wants to drive HGVs anymore. The reason fundamentally being that the middle classes in both government and business admin have made it a shit job with all their regulations and electronic surveillance.

    https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/why-brits-like-me-have-abandoned-trucking

  17. @Charles

    There are two parts to your solution:

    1) Raise wages
    2) Import drivers

    Raising wages is something that the suppliers of capital have historically been loathe to do. It’s why the (Republican) Koch brothers support unlimited migration. It makes for a divide between low skill workers – constantly competing with imported workers, and higher skill workers. This is the US/UK model of the past few decades. Neither country invested heavily in capital to increase the productivity of their low skill workers or invested in training them up. Hence low wage.

    The corollary to lower wages is to import workers. This is a solution to the problem at hand, but it makes the native restless and brings second order costs – pressure on housing, services provided by the state, which are not borne by the providers of capital.

    It’s partly Brexit, partly a pandemic problem – the latter being a combination of not having trained workers and disruption to supply chains, which meant that lots of workers probably were left doing other things. The UK would be better served by cutting the universal credit and raising wages rather than importing workers. Push more of the unemployed and underutilised into jobs. Invest in better technology to raise the productivity of the workers they do have – and pay them more.

  18. Seems like Baumol’s cost disease is important.

    Long term, even the imported foreigners are going to get richer and more expensive. Making the workers more productive will be the only solution. That means self driving trucks, I suppose.

    This is probably an argument against “more automation causes unemployment”. It’s more like you have to automate because you can’t get the staff.

  19. The missus works in trucking, for a pan European company. There have been shortages of drivers for years, with the various companies competing for the same Czech drivers (they’re the ones who’ll turn up & drive).
    You can’t get a local (Swede) driver for love or money..

  20. Just back from my normal Saturday run to the local supermarket and the queues of traffic everywhere there’s a petrol station are insane at this early hour for a Saturday.

    Except the local Shell garage. And when I passed I saw why – they’ve barricaded the entrance, presumably because they’ve run dry. Tough luck if you wanted to vacuum or wash your car, put air in the tyres, or buy milk or fags from the kiosk.

    It’s almost as though when the government says there’s no need to panic buy, even the idiots among us suddenly realise what lying bastards they are.

  21. @JuliaM

    It’s a self fulfilling prophecy
    Media says there is going to be a crisis (not a minor inconvenience)

    Media says the crisis isn’t a crisis

    Media reports government says there is no crisis

    Media interviews charlatans who have an interest in promoting a crisis

    Media interviewd itself about the crisis

    Media says don’t panic there is no crisis…but there might be

    Crisis duly occurs

    Media reports there is a crisis

    It’s the circle of life

    Same thing happened in covid and brexit

  22. Jim: “A combination of Thatcher and Brexit can be blamed for everything that has possibly gone wrong in the UK within the last 3000 years, and the next 3000 years to boot.”

    For everything else, there’s Climate Change.

  23. All these issues- lorry drivers, fruit pickers, carers- should have been addressed by

    The Temporary Work Visas For Shortage Occupations (FFS It’s not Exactly Rocket Science) Act 2017.

    Which wasn’t passed because Remoaners tied up Parliament for three years trying to overrule the electorate.

  24. Interesting reader’s comment in The Times from an LGV driver called Malcolm Lewis:

    There is an elephant in the room regarding the shortage of LGV drivers. And that is the EU driver professional competence card. This ridiculous ‘qualification card’ involves spending 37 hours of theory about how to do a job that I have been doing for 33 years successfully. Not only is it time consuming but also very expensive – last time I looked about £350 . Ironically many EU countries dumped it but of course UK loves to gold plate its compliance . So now you have another layer of testing to surmount in addition to the theory test and 2 practical tests for the 2 classes. That is why there is only a 53% pass rate. Then a newly qualified driver would have to pass a companies’ assessment test- a lot fail at the Co Op where I drive. A newly qualified driver would simply not cope with shop deliveries in a lot of difficult locations. There is no quick fix to this.

    The UK is not any worse hit than , say Germany or Poland or France. There is a European shortage of LGV drivers. Why? There are many reasons but it is a demanding job involving sometimes weeks away from home and suffering poor facilities, a long standing shortage of safe overnight parking and of course the expense of achieving the licence to even drive at a basic level.

    As an addendum to my previous post – the shortage of tanker drivers is an even more difficult and challenging problem. In addition to the aforementioned training regime there is a rigorous on the job health and safety regime – for obvious reasons. A friend of mine has extensive experience in ADR (hazardous goods) and told me that no fuel distribution company would allow an inexperienced driver to just jump into a articulated tanker and send them off to deliver petrol or diesel to forecourts. This is a particularly difficult discipline so I am afraid it is not going to be sorted out quickly.

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