LONDON (Reuters) - A shortage of truckers on Britain's roads could leave Christmas shoppers out in the cold as tough new rules for drivers kick in.
Hauliers are getting creative - training warehouse staff to drive, hiring truckers from abroad, even turning to the army - to minimise disruption from a Europe-wide licensing scheme that requires drivers to undergo extra training.
The logistics industry in Britain, where more than 60 per cent of goods move by road, is 60,000 drivers short as peak season begins, according to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills.
The seasonal advice from Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin to Britons last week: Get your shopping done soon.
New legislation demands that, from Sept. 10, most commercial truck, bus and coach drivers hold a driver certificate of professional competence (CPC). At about 3,000 pounds ($4,700) per HGV driver, the qualification doesn't come cheap.
That cost estimate, according to two trade bodies, includes 35 hours of mandatory government-approved training every five years - a cause of much grumbling among experienced hands in a country where most HGV drivers are in their mid-50s.
"Some of the older drivers don't really understand why they need to do this," said Jamie Boyd, managing director of haulage firm Today Team Ltd and himself a former truck driver.
The cost is also prohibitive for many drivers who work on short-term contracts and those who come out of retirement in peak season.
Peter Shakespeare, head of publications at the Road Haulage Association, a trade body, said some companies "can't get the additional drivers they need".
Wincanton Plc, whose customers include Tesco Plc and J Sainsbury Plc, employs more than 4,000 full-time drivers. Contract workers typically boost this number by nearly a third around Christmas.
To find extra drivers this year, the company is training its distribution staff and is in talks to hire Ministry of Defence drivers, said Liam McElroy, head of retail at Wincanton.
He said he had also redeployed trucks from Wincanton's construction business to handle deliveries to retailers.
While extra manpower and vehicles mean higher costs, hauliers say they saw this shortage coming. Some signed cheap labour contracts at the start of the year. Others are recruiting from Ireland and elsewhere in Europe.