The UK government is considering a temporary visa scheme to fix the lorry driver shortage in the country.
Downing Street sources said the scheme, which reports suggest will temporarily lift visa restrictions for foreign drivers, is to be a “short-term solution” to ease pressure on deliveries in the run-up to Christmas.
The Financial Times and the Telegraph reported up to 5,000 temporary visas could be granted for HGV drivers while the FT also said a similar number would be approved for food processing workers, especially in the poultry industry.
It comes amid scenes of lengthy queues at petrol stations after a shortage of HGV drivers forced some fuel retailers to shut their pumps and ration sales.
The petrol problems follow growing concern over the impact the lack of HGV drivers is having on supermarket supplies, with fears Christmas shopping could be hindered without action.
Experts suggest the industry is short of about 90,000 drivers.
The Confederation of British Industry, CBI, said there was “huge relief” at the prospect of a softening of policy on foreign workers being allowed into the UK to mitigate the issue.
“We’ve been calling for it for three months.
“We could see this problem coming and more problems coming, and so it’s a shame the Government needed queues at the pumps to move, but move I hope they have and it will help.”
Labour joined in criticising the amount of time it has taken ministers to address the long-term issue.
“It’s frustrating that we’ve got to this point that the Government are having to do that, because their own policies created this situation we’ve got in the first place,” deputy leader Angela Rayner told the BBC.
“The Government does need to address this issue but it has been a long time coming – we know that lorry and HGV drivers are skilled workers.
“This was coming down the tracks and the Government haven’t done anything to address it, and now we face this crisis.”
Sir Keir Starmer told supporters after arriving at the Labour Party conference in Brighton that the Conservative administration was “letting people down so badly” over shortages of food and fuel.
The party leader said: “I’ve just been up the road (and seen) three petrol stations, one of them with a massive queue and two of them with no fuel.”
One freight transport boss was sceptical about whether the shortages being experienced in the sector would be resolved by relaxing immigration rules.
Toby Ovens, managing director of Broughton Transport Solutions, asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether such a scheme could help alleviate the vacancies, Mr Ovens said: “No, I think a lot of what we’re seeing at the minute is down to essentially the driver wages.
“Margins in haulage are very tight and the reality is the money isn’t there to pay the increased wages without substantial price increases to customers.”