Heywood company says it can solve ‘crisis’ facing major supermarkets

A shortage of HGV drivers which is leaving fresh produce destined for major supermarkets being dumped could be solved by employing ex-soldiers through a Greater Manchester company, it is claimed. A major North West distributor has warned that retailers including Tesco, Asda, Aldi, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose face a shortage of popular items on the shelves, describing it as a “crisis of national importance” Lancs Live reports that Tim O’Malley, managing director of Southport-based Nationwide Produce PLC, said “perfectly good, graded and packed fresh produce” is being “dumped or left rotting in cold stores, waiting for wheels to go under it” as there are not enough truck drivers to transport produce across the country.

He said changes to the tax system of HGV agency drivers, Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic are all contributing to the current crisis. But a Heywood-based company could be the answer and is lobbying for support from Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the Big Lottery for extra funding to train armed service veterans. ‘Veterans into Logistics’ was started around a year ago by former Greater Manchester soldier Darren Wright, the lead director, with the support of others such as Major Ian Battersby, who has served almost 40 years in the army and is now the company’s chairman of the board and a director.

One of two lorries used at the Heywood-based company Veterans Into Logistics launched by Darren Wright.

The aim is to get armed forces personnel into well paid professional jobs as truck drivers when they leave their military careers for ‘civvy’ street.

There is currently a shortage of around 100,000 drivers in the UK which will continue to disrupt supply chains across the country. This has further been highlighted during the pandemic as restrictions have seen 28,000 LGV driver tests cancelled which has also added to the ongoing logistics issues. Veterans into Logistics believe they can provide drivers which are urgently needed and have applied for GBP1m in funding.

Heywood company says it can solve 'crisis' facing major supermarketsThe Veterans Foundation has donated GBP30,000 to help set up the company Veterans Into Logistics, based in Heywood

However, there is a glitch.

The number of ex-veterans approaching the company massively outnumbers the amount of examination slots they are currently being allocated by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVLA). The company has started a campaign for military driving examiners to step into the ‘breach’ and help clear the backlog and provide more access to driver tests for ex-forces personnel. Mr Wright told the Manchester Evening News: “This is not just about getting jobs for our former service people but also about giving them back some self-esteem, pride and yes, a well-paid job.

“Mental health issues amongst former soldiers, sailors and airmen are huge and a major factor is being thrown on the scrap-heap after serving the country for many years, when having to leave a job they love often through age, and cutbacks.”

Heywood company says it can solve 'crisis' facing major supermarketsEx paratrooper Darren Wright

Alec McFadden, formerly manager of the Salford Unemployed Community Resource Centre for 24 years, is the National Project Co-ordinator and a director with Veterans into Logistics. He said: “For many veterans a decent job is all they need to get that leg-up and make a fresh start in the community. It is really a no-brainer to give them the opportunity to do the training and become LGV drivers and at the same time filling that much-needed gap to keep our supply chains running efficiently.

“I went into my local supermarket this week and the shelves were bare. I asked what was going on and staff told me they had been told to say they had had a busy day. I asked what was really happening and they said it was due to a shortage of drivers delivering produce.

“We already have 100 ex veterans wanting to be trained as drivers and we can guarantee them jobs with salaries of GBP30,000 to GBP50,000. We just need urgent help to sort out the training with about GBP1m in funding. ” The scheme is also backed by MP’s Graham Brady, Lucy Powell and Graham Stringer.

Heywood company says it can solve 'crisis' facing major supermarketsAlec McFadden former TUC/welfare rights supremo now working for Veterans Into Logistics

He added: “The Government has agreed to fast track and relocate thousands of Afghans into the UK, who worked for the British Military, when foreign forces leave Afghanistan.

We will open our training and job opportunities to them when they arrive in the UK, and they will become our second priority after our veterans. “We will make contact with the MOD through our established contacts and local member of Parliament Chris Clarkson. Further information will be available in the coming weeks.”

Speaking to Fresh Produce Journal about the crisis, Mr O’Malley said: “In all my years in fresh produce I’ve never seen anything like this. “For example, we supply one of the largest restaurant chains in the UK. It goes without saying how much they’ve suffered throughout the pandemic.

However, business is booming for them at the moment.

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“On Sunday, our guy who handles their account received a call from our haulier at 1pm to say that due to a shortage of lorry drivers, they cannot deliver anything to any of the depots for our restaurant customer that evening. “We reminded them that all the goods were graded and packed and ready to go.

They said they simply could not deliver due to a lack of drivers. After hours of begging and pleading we managed to get them to deliver to one of the eight depots.” He said he had heard of one major supermarket chain that had failed to receive an expected 22 full loads of produce this weekend due to the shortage.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retailers are aware of a fall in HGV driver numbers and are working with their suppliers to ensure that consumers still have the same great selection of fresh produce.

Nonetheless, a long-term solution is needed, and we need Government to increase the number of HGV driving tests.”