Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

HGV Driver Shortages

– in the Scottish Parliament on 19th January 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-14914, in the name of Chic Brodie, on heavy goods vehicle driver shortages in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the statistics provided by the Road Haulage Association (RHA) and the Scottish Road Haulage Group regarding HGV driver shortages; notes the view that Skills Development Scotland, schools, colleges and employers should work together to increase recruitment in the industry; understands that the RHA has been working alongside Jobcentre Plus with the initiative, Driving Britain’s Future, which gives unemployed people first-hand experience of the industry and aims to raise the profile of the participating companies and the sector to encourage more recruitment, and, with road haulage contributing a reported £5 billion to Scotland’s economy, around 5% of GVA, welcomes initiatives to increase driver recruitment in South Scotland and across the country.

Photo of Chic Brodie Chic Brodie Scottish National Party

I am pleased that we are having the debate this evening, and I thank all those members who have remained for it. I also thank three people in particular: Geoff Campbell, Martin Reid and Willie McArthur. Willie McArthur first raised the issue with me and Jim Eadie some 18 to 20 months ago.

The road haulage sector is a fundamental part of the Scottish economy. Its net contribution is more than £5 billion, and it contributes more than 5.5 per cent of the total Scottish gross value added. It is also a vital component in helping to deliver Scotland’s exports which in themselves are a key component of Scotland’s economic strategy: we are on track to double our exports over the period 2012 to 2017. The sector fuels the retail market, secures manufacturing output through the delivery of raw materials and components to industry and also harnesses indigenous industries such as farming and forestry.

There are an estimated 300,000 HGV drivers in the United Kingdom, of which Scotland has—or should have—approximately 30,000, but it is estimated that the driver shortage in Scotland may be as high as 11,000. As I said, this is not just a Scottish problem, but a fairly large one as far as we are concerned.

Data from a recent study by Manpower UK found that HGV driver roles are among the five hardest roles to fill in the job market, which compounds the shortage. Because of the demographics, 16 per cent of drivers are due to retire in the next four to five years and only 1 per cent of drivers are under the age of 25. That is combined with an appallingly low recruitment rate. Approximately 1,500 drivers have to be recruited each year in Scotland to address the shortfall. That ticking economic time bomb exists. The fact that the sector is heavily dominated by men contributes to that. Only 1 per cent of drivers employed in the industry are women.

Those overall statistics are not new. The problem has not just sprung up; it has steadily worsened over the years. The sector skills council has estimated that, at times, there have been six vacancies for every one driver. There is no doubt that we have a serious driver shortage in Scotland.

We need to tackle three main areas. Again, I emphasise the support and information that I have received from the industry and those who live with the challenge day in, day out.

First, we need to ensure that our skills agencies understand the scale of the problem that the sector faces and have a skills strategy to tackle the issue. There are also many sectors within the HGV sector, such as the forestry, livestock and fuel movement sectors, all of which have unique skill sets and all of which contribute to the overall challenge.

All drivers now require the compulsory certificate of professional competence, and they also must carry a driver qualification card, which involves having 35 hours of periodic training every five years. CPC training can cost up to £3,000 a driver. Together, we need to ensure that those things are properly funded and that drivers remain and grow with the industry.

Following a specific meeting last month that followed months of prior discussions, Skills Development Scotland will carry out an extensive consultation with the sector to assess the scale of the problem, the skill sets that are required and the barriers to recruitment. The invitation to tender for that consultation is now on the public contracts Scotland portal. Believe it or not, that closes tomorrow. The consultation involves talking to the Scottish road haulage group, the Road Haulage Association and the Freight Transport Association; it also involves talking to the highly significant food and drink industry and other key sectors in Scotland. We should have that skills strategy by the end of March. Modern apprentice schemes, career development loan opportunities and working with existing training providers will all be principal features of it.

Secondly, we need to ensure that a pipeline of drivers is coming through into the industry. As I said, only 1 per cent of the industry is under the age of 25. The principles of the developing the young workforce strategy would be enshrined in the development of a logistics academy in Scotland. To that end, we will encourage discussions to take place between the skills agencies, schools, colleges and the university sector to ensure that we have a robust pipeline of professional drivers. The driver training agencies and employers that I have met are very ready to play their part.

Photo of Mark McDonald Mark McDonald Scottish National Party

In discussions that I have had with hauliers in my constituency, one issue that they have highlighted is that it can often be more expensive for them to obtain insurance for drivers who are under the age of 25, despite the fact that they hold all the required qualifications. Does the member agree that insurance firms also need to be part of the discussion?

Photo of Chic Brodie Chic Brodie Scottish National Party

Mr McDonald is absolutely right about insurance firms being part of the conversation. I am sure that he will address that issue in his speech. The insurance companies have to be a bit more realistic in what they are trying to achieve in the long term.

The Road Haulage Association has been working alongside Jobcentre Plus in the driving Britain’s future initiative, which gives unemployed people first-hand experience of the industry. However, we require a rash of such initiatives.

Finally, there are the barriers to recruitment. Addressing the issue of driver shortages will require a multifaceted approach. We have talked about the availability and funding of training and the development of a logistics academy. The urgent requirement to remove the barriers to entry to the industry underpins those. We need to ensure that funding for training allows people from other industries to be upskilled. Mr McDonald made a valid point about insurance requirements. In the current financial scenario and with restrictions across the board, the sector’s general importance to all economic sectors should be acknowledged when it comes to funding.

One significant possibility might be that those leaving the army, the navy and the air force and who have appropriate skills might be upskilled. We will be looking to discuss those opportunities with the cabinet secretary with responsibility for veterans.

We need to ensure that women can enter the industry more easily. The development of a logistics academy could play a major part in that, as could flexibility around working and working hours for all drivers.

I wish to close by commending, as I did at the beginning, those in the industry. I have mentioned Geoff Campbell, Martin Reid and Willie McArthur and there are many more. I thank them for their part in raising and addressing the issue and for their guidance and knowledge, which has been shared with me over the many meetings that I have held with them.

This is an issue that I am sure will be addressed fully over time. I am delighted that SDS will be producing a skills strategy by the end of March.

The road haulage industry is, without doubt, a major contributor to Scotland’s economy and helps to drive forward our exports. We should, we must and we will support it.

Photo of Angus MacDonald Angus MacDonald Scottish National Party

I apologise, as I will be unable to stay in the chamber for the whole debate. I have a meeting to attend and I am hosting the James Watt celebration in the garden lobby.

I am grateful to Chic Brodie for bringing the debate to the chamber, as it is important that this pressing issue remains on the Scottish Government’s radar until we can see a steady stream of new entrants into the haulage industry.

I am also grateful to my colleague Christian Allard for lodging his motion in Parliament during the first national lorry week last October, which highlighted the “love the lorry” themed events, organised by the Road Haulage Association, which allowed pupils around the country to learn more about the haulage industry.

I have of course raised the issue in the chamber myself on a number of occasions in the past two or three months and I am grateful to the transport minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills and Training for their responses.

Local hauliers in my constituency have come to me to highlight their concerns regarding the very real problem of finding suitable drivers from home and even from abroad, with the RHA indicating that there is a shortage of 45,000 suitably qualified HGV licence holders in the UK.

Iain Mitchell, the managing director of John Mitchell Haulage in Grangemouth, employs more than 100 people and has a large fleet of trucks working around the clock. However he has highlighted to me the difficulty of attracting new drivers to the industry.

He came to me with a proposal that is now being actively discussed with Skills Development Scotland, in which he would be willing to pay half the costs of training around 12 young drivers a year if SDS matched the funding. I hope that something can come of that proposal, which seems a sensible way forward and an ideal way of helping to avoid a crisis.

The cost of training for a class 1 HGV/LGV licence is more than £3,000, which is prohibitive for any future drivers, particularly if they are paying out of their own pocket, so a scheme that contributed a percentage of the costs of training drivers would, he believes, help to address the serious problem of declining numbers of drivers.

In addition to meeting Iain Mitchell, I also met local livestock haulier Stewarts of Bo’ness in my constituency, which is also experiencing significant difficulty in attracting new drivers into the industry.

Livestock haulage is specialised work and not everyone can drive a livestock transporter. Farmers and livestock hauliers have to be trained and pass tests to prove that they are competent. However, that has led to a shortage of qualified drivers, with the average age of livestock hauliers now believed to be 55. I think that that is the average age for the general haulage industry as well.

Despite high salaries, in some cases in excess of £40,000 a year to key men, more are leaving the industry than joining. They are being enticed to other haulage jobs by competitive salaries and a generally cleaner environment with non-livestock haulage, with none of the stress attached to moving livestock over long distances and trying to meet what many regard as impossible timetables. As we know, livestock hauliers are required to observe working time directive rules, which can be hard to do when working with auction marts, abattoirs and, of course, the animals. Livestock hauliers can only drive a maximum of 90 hours in a fortnight or run the risk of hefty fines. Of course, during the hectic autumn sale or back end season, there are not enough livestock hauliers to move all the animals in the limited number of driving hours that they are allowed.

Much as I hate to use the word, as I think that it is overused in this chamber, I feel that we are facing a crisis and that is the view throughout the haulage industry.

As I mentioned earlier, figures from the Road Haulage Association show that the UK is currently 45,000 drivers short and 35,000 drivers are due to retire in the next year, excluding those who have to leave for medical reasons or have found another job. Also, there are only 17,000 entering the industry annually.

The RHA has called for the United Kingdom Treasury to make £100 million available for industry funding through a targeted time-limited scheme. I hope that the UK Government is listening and will progress that. However, in the meantime, the Scottish Government can play its part. Before Christmas, I was encouraged to receive confirmation from the Minister for Transport and Islands that Skills Development Scotland is exploring a range of options to address the driver shortage.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Could you draw to a close, please?

Photo of Angus MacDonald Angus MacDonald Scottish National Party

Indeed.

We all recognise that the road freight industry is the lifeblood of Scotland’s and the UK’s economy, so we all must play our part in ensuring that we literally keep Scotland moving.

Photo of David Stewart David Stewart Labour

I congratulate Chic Brodie on securing this important debate. I share his conclusion that the shortage of HGV drivers poses a real and present threat to the Scottish and UK economies. I have a particular interest in the issue as I am a member of the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee, which has spent time taking evidence on freight and meeting a number of large hauliers. That is why I echo Chic Brodie’s well-researched speech.

Looking round the chamber or the rest of the Parliament building, we find that most of what we can see—from the glass that is in my hand to the chairs—was delivered by a lorry for at least part of its journey here. In fact, more than 85 per cent of all goods that are bought in the UK are carried by a lorry at some stage in the supply chain. As members have rightly said, the Road Haulage Association, which represents more than 8,000 haulage companies, states that there is a shortage of 45,000 to 50,000 drivers in the UK. If we do not get those drivers, the industry will literally grind to a halt.

The statistics are stark. According to the Office for National Statistics labour force survey, 62 per cent of truck drivers are 45 or older and the average age in the sector is 53, with 13 per cent of drivers being over 60. The most worrying thing is that only 2 per cent of drivers are under 25. As we heard from Chic Brodie, that means that a fifth of the HGV driver workforce will reach retirement age in the next 10 years. That is combined with the fact that there has been a 45 per cent drop in the number of individuals obtaining an HGV licence in the past five years. In short, thousands of older drivers are leaving the industry and there are too many barriers to entering it.

Mark McDonald was right to touch on the point about insurance when he intervened. That has certainly been put to me in the Highlands and Islands by the numerous haulage companies that have contacted me. That is a barrier that is preventing young people from replacing those who will retire.

We have to do something about those barriers. The biggest issue is getting truck driving on to the radar of school leavers. A Westminster equivalent of one of our cross-party groups has described career guidance in relation to the logistics sector as “limited or non-existent”. Back in 2009, the UK Government lowered the minimum age for driving a truck from 21 to 18, but in my experience, it seems that only family firms have taken advantage of that change, although I could be wrong about that. That is unsurprising, given that, as the Westminster group that I mentioned has said,

“Insurance is a major cost to the industry … Prices are so high that companies are presented with a disincentive to invest in young people to become drivers and so are missing out on the formative years of a young person’s career path.”

I have spoken to Nithcree Training Services, which is a company based in Dumfries that provides HGV driver training. The manager of that training facility said that the whole situation is a catch 22. Funding is available for apprenticeships and is geared towards those of an appropriate age, but someone has to be employed by a company before they are eligible for it. What use is that for a young person who wants to enter the HGV driving profession but who is not employed? Where will they find the £3,000 that is required to fund themselves to go through the HGV driver training and test? My colleague Rhoda Grant mentioned to me that she had been in touch with a Western Isles company that does not want to be named but which raised exactly the same problem. That is a huge disincentive to taking on young people.

I highlight the good work of the Road Haulage Association, which is taking a lead on the issue. The motion mentions driving Britain’s future, a new project with Jobcentre Plus, which is an excellent initiative. I again congratulate Chic Brodie on raising the issue, which is important for Scotland and the Parliament.

Photo of Joan McAlpine Joan McAlpine Scottish National Party

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. I am grateful to my colleague Chic Brodie for bringing the debate to the chamber and congratulate him on doing so.

The value of the logistics industry to Scotland’s economy has been highlighted. As our economy improves, driver shortages are likely to cause difficulties for Scotland’s supply chains, so it is imperative that we address the skills gap now.

The sector is extremely important to my region. I take the opportunity to recognise two Dumfries-based companies—Nithcree Training Services, which has been mentioned, and Currie European Transport—for their efforts in encouraging more people to train as HGV drivers. I spoke to the leaders of both those companies in advance of the debate to get a first-hand view on the challenges and how to overcome them. At Nithcree Training, I spoke to the director, Elizabeth Campbell, to find out more about the shortages. She highlighted the cost of HGV training, which can be prohibitive. In fact, she said that taking someone from scratch to being trained in every kind of HGV and load could cost around £5,000 in certificates and licences.

Members will know that, as the co-convener of the cross-party group on culture, I am a great supporter of the arts, but it would be remiss of me if I did not mention that Elizabeth Campbell at Nithcree Training was rather frustrated at hearing that a friend’s relative who had embarked on a college course in photography was able to access £6,000 in bursaries and grants. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing college courses in photography and it is great that the Government is focused on college courses that have outcomes, but there is a skills gap in the HGV industry, and Elizabeth Campbell was frustrated that it is possible to access such a package to train in photography but not to train as an HGV driver.

Currie European has an excellent apprenticeship scheme for young people. The company, which has a great relationship with the local schools, takes apprentices from school. Tom Barrie, its owner, said that, although it was and would remain absolutely committed to its apprenticeship scheme, the cost of insurance was prohibitive and the company was looking for any assistance that it could get on that.

Mr Barrie mentioned that a lot of Currie European’s recruitment comes from people who are changing career. It should be mentioned that HGV driving is a good career. It suits many people, although not everybody, and is much more highly paid than the average. However, if somebody wants to move into that career, they have to take 18 weeks off as well as find the funding for the licence and the training.

In addition, Mr Barrie mentioned the burden of the CPC, which is a UK Government issue. It was also interesting that he mentioned that the UK Government has taken away tax breaks for drivers who are on overnight journeys. That does not involve a huge amount of money, but it makes a big difference to the career’s attractiveness. He wanted more pressure to be put on the UK Government to address that issue.

As other members have said, the shortage of drivers is affecting the economy as a whole. Mr Barrie employs more than 300 people at Currie European but, because of the shortages, he has to turn work away. If he is doing that, it means that the companies that need to get goods to people are not getting them to those people on time.

Because the shortage affects the whole economy and not only the road haulage industry, I am keen to highlight it in this important debate. I hope that we can all work together to find a solution for the industry and the economy as a whole.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

I, too, congratulate Chic Brodie on securing today’s debate, which is an important one for my region—the Highlands and Islands—and, indeed, the whole of Scotland. I also acknowledge the good work that Chic Brodie and other members have done to raise the profile of this issue, and I am pleased that I have been able to work on the subject as well.

At the outset, I pay tribute to the first class efforts of those who are involved in the Scottish road haulage group, particularly Geoff Campbell and Willie McArthur, both of whom have vast practical experience working in the haulage sector and who have such a passion for the industry. They have helped brief interested MSPs, and I hope that they will continue to do so, along with the RHA, which has also done good work.

I commend all the HGV drivers who work hard to keep our shops, businesses, hospitals, schools, universities and all our other services supplied with goods. They transport agricultural livestock, timber and farmed fish, and they enable companies to get their products to market across Scotland, the UK and the world.

As a livestock farmer for many years, I relied heavily on the industry to move cattle and sheep to markets in often difficult conditions on small roads. The drivers used to help with the loading and unloading and then, at the end of the day, they had to clean the lorries. I know how hard these people work. Their job is unending, but they are often unsung heroes—which is the point. They are the lifeblood of whole economy in Scotland, and we often take them for granted. We should be grateful to them.

I know that the sector continues to face this winter’s particular challenge of bad weather and flooding, which has caused transport disruption, and that the continuing ban on HGVs using the Forth road bridge is piling extra costs on hauliers. Further, the blocking by landslide of the A83 on the Rest and Be Thankful is causing extra problems for hauliers, especially those from Kintyre.

As Chic Brodie has said, the contribution of haulage to Scotland’s economy is massive. However, the sector is facing significant problems in recruiting new drivers, which is vital to its long-term future. More than 38 per cent of drivers are aged 45 or over, so we need to be working to address the challenge now and with great urgency.

On young new entrants, I support the industry’s calls for a structure to be put in place to promote HGV driving to school pupils at secondary school before they are lost to other sectors. It is a great industry to come in to. There is the particular difficulty that youngsters have to be 18 before they can gain their HGV licence. How do we keep 16-year-old school leavers interested in the sector, and how can we support them in that period until they are 18 and can gain their licence? That is important.

Funding for skills and training must be flexible enough to support those in the 25-plus age group, too. Many hauliers are seeking to attract them as drivers, not least because employers’ insurance premiums for them are less onerous than they are for younger drivers. That funding must include those who are currently self-employed and are seeking training to help upskill, retrain or transfer their skills. I want Skills Development Scotland to offer as much support as possible to the self-employed in these categories as well as those who are unemployed.

I am delighted that this debate is taking place, as the road haulage sector is intrinsically important to almost every aspect of the Scottish economy, and we must ensure that it is underpinned by a sustainable number of drivers. There is much work to be done to prevent a potential recruitment crisis, and I urge ministers to engage with the Scottish road haulage group and the RHA and to respond to the specific suggestions and ideas that they have about tackling the challenges that we have heard about this evening.

Photo of Christian Allard Christian Allard Scottish National Party

I congratulate Chic Brodie on getting cross-party support for his motion. I know that he got help from a lot of people, some of whom are here tonight.

The road haulage industry is one that is close to my heart. Yes, I came to this country 30 years ago to open a road haulage office in Blochairn Road in Glasgow, and I literally came here in a truck. I was more than an office manager then, as I took every opportunity to drive one of our 143 Scania lorries on the small Highland roads to collect farmed salmon for export. I was pleased to contribute to Scotland’s export efforts.

You have to believe me, Presiding Officer—the Highlands look fantastic from aboard a truck pulling a 38-tonne load of fresh fish. I did not employ women drivers at the time. When we talk about recruitment, it is important that we concentrate on both genders. There are a lot of women drivers on the road. Maybe we do not realise that a lot of women are driving a specific type of truck. If members do not believe me, next time they drive on Scotland’s highways, they should have a look. Most, if not all, HGV horse boxes are driven by women. That kills the myth that women cannot drive trucks.

There are women truckers on television, too. I do not know whether members watch “Ice Road Truckers” on Channel 5. It is a reality television series that features Lisa Kelly, an American trucker. She was the only female trucker featured in the series until Maya Sieber joined in season 5. Prior to her appointment as an ice road trucker, Lisa Kelly worked as a school bus driver, and trained as a trucker because it “looked interesting”. The industry is very appealing for women.

The conditions for driving close to the north pole are not ideal for any truck drivers. Lisa and Maya are living proof that driving HGVs can be easily mastered by women. More and more women HGV drivers are coming into the industry every day and choosing driving as a career. HGV driver training centres have noticed an influx of women entering the industry and wanting to train for category C and C+E licences.

The industry used to be mostly ruled by men, but it is changing and many women are now involved behind the desk and behind the wheel. Their number is rapidly increasing, given the number of opportunities in the industry at the moment. As Chic Brodie said, there are quite a lot of job vacancies in Scotland and across the UK. Attitudes are changing, too. Women are fully qualified and have completed the same training as their male counterparts, so they know what they are doing.

The RHA is set to launch a new campaign and resource centre to highlight the logistics work done by women and the opportunities available for women entering the sector. The campaign is called “She’s RHA” and its primary aim is to encourage a national debate about the role of women in the sector. It will showcase a variety of successful women and encourage a forum within which female workers can swap experiences, information and achievements. She’s RHA will be launched soon south of the border. I would like members and the minister to join me to encourage the Road Haulage Association to bring the she’s RHA campaign to Scotland as soon as possible. I am sure that it will receive cross-party support in Parliament.

I was pleased to back the first ever national lorry week organised by the Road Haulage Association, which was mentioned by Angus MacDonald. My motion on the event, which received cross-party support, noted

“that the aim of National Lorry Week is to raise the profile of the haulage industry”.

At an event in Pittodrie in Aberdeen, as soon as somebody showed young school children how to work the horn, it was impossible to hear ourselves. It was quite a good event. There will be a “love the lorry” themed campaign again this year.

The voice of the industry needs to be heard. I thank Chic Brodie again for bringing the issue to our attention. This is an industry open to all genders—it is a vital industry and an industry for the future.

Photo of Mark McDonald Mark McDonald Scottish National Party

I, too, congratulate my colleague Chic Brodie on securing the debate. Christian Allard spoke about media depictions of female lorry drivers. In thinking about the debate and the issue of female lorry drivers, I remembered watching the cartoon “Pigeon Street” when I was growing up, in which one of the main characters was a female long-distance lorry driver called Clara. Perhaps we need more media depictions of female drivers to encourage more women to consider driving lorries as a viable career choice that is open to them. More broadly, we need to ensure that any media portrayals of the haulage industry are positive. In the past, there have been negative portrayals, which can have an impact on whether people are attracted to the industry.

The first of the specific areas that I want to cover is the opportunities that can arise from difficulties in sectors. We know that the haulage industry is going through a difficult time—somewhere in the region of 1,500 drivers a year for the next 10 years are required to bridge the skills gap that has been identified.

In my and Christian Allard’s area, the oil and gas industry is experiencing a downturn, with a large number of individuals potentially facing redundancy. I have had a meeting with Jason Moir of Dyce Carriers and Bill Walker of William Walker Transport—both are based in my constituency—and, in light of those discussions, coupled with the issues facing the offshore sector, I have written to the First Minister to ask for the RHA to be considered for involvement in the energy jobs task force. Our first efforts should be to prevent redundancy in the offshore sector wherever possible, but if there are going to be redundancies, we should look at whether any opportunities might arise as a result that organisations such as the RHA and the haulage industry could capitalise on through people reskilling and retraining.

That brings me to training. I welcome the response that I received from the cabinet secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, who wrote to me to advise that small businesses can apply for up to £5,000 towards employee training costs, with a refund of up to 50 per cent of the costs for each employee up to a maximum of £500. The difficulty that haulage firms are facing is that, if individuals are to obtain employment from those firms, they need first to have undertaken the training and passed their HGV test. That is an issue for the Scottish Government and the UK Government. We need to look at what can be put in place to support individuals, particularly those who are looking to reskill and move from another career into the haulage industry. The £5,000 to cover training is a substantial sum of money. That is particularly the case when an individual has faced redundancy or is looking to move from one career into another.

That brings me to insurance, which I raised earlier in the debate. Insurance firms absolutely have to be part of the conversation. If an individual is qualified as an HGV driver, it should not matter whether they are 21 or 31; there should be no age-based discrimination for insurance. If an individual who has the required qualifications runs the risk of losing out on a position because it would cost the company more to insure them, that needs to be addressed.

I welcome the debate that Chic Brodie has brought to the chamber and the action that he has highlighted is being taken. More needs to be done, perhaps, and some organisations need to be brought into the discussion. I am positive that the opportunities are out there; the question is whether they can be capitalised upon.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Many thanks. Just before I call the minister to respond, and for the record, I must remind members that if they choose to participate in a members’ business debate, they should be available for the whole debate. In the rare circumstances when that is not possible, it is courteous to notify the Presiding Officer in advance. Furthermore, events in the building should not commence until the business of the Parliament is concluded.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

I welcome this evening’s debate and I am grateful to Chic Brodie for securing the parliamentary time to highlight such an important issue. I am also grateful to all members who have participated. A number of important, reflective and thoughtful contributions have been made.

I echo Jamie McGrigor’s praise for HGV drivers. It is important to make the point that they work very hard to keep Scotland’s economy moving.

Once again, we have heard about the hands-on experience of Christian Allard—this time in the haulage sector, as in so many other sectors. He has had many former lives, but in one of them he was an HGV driver, which adds to the debate.

The Scottish Government recognises the important role of freight as an enabler of economic growth, so we must do what we can to match the available opportunities in the road haulage sector to those who are seeking employment. Supporting individuals and employers to develop the necessary skills is an important aspect of the equation, and we do that through Skills Development Scotland and programmes such as modern apprenticeships.

We can add value and help employers by contributing towards the cost of training. Members may be interested to know that freight logistics is the current MA framework for this area. A public contribution has been available for four pathways across all age groups at levels 2 and 3, from 2011-12 through to quarter 2 in 2015-16. There were a total of 6,041 of those MAs. An additional 1,171 MAs in driving goods vehicles, which was previously a standalone framework, can be added to that total. Importantly, the contribution was available to those aged over 25.

HGV licence acquisition and the European Union driver certificate of professional competence are matters that are reserved to Westminster, as members have said, so general provision of funding for them is not within our gift. Members will be aware that the functions of Jobcentre Plus in Scotland are also reserved. Notwithstanding those constraints, there is an important role here for SDS, working in collaboration with the industry, to establish the skills and training needs of the sector and to offer advice and guidance to individuals who are seeking to work in road haulage, as well as to employers who need to recruit.

I strongly encourage any employer—in this sector or in any other—to engage with SDS at the earliest possible stage to address their likely skills and training needs. SDS has worked with industry and partners to develop skills investment plans in a number of sectors. Those plans set out a clear statement of the sector’s needs, highlight the key skills priorities and, importantly, include an action plan to address the identified skills issues and thereby ensure that education and training align with future skills needs.

As Chic Brodie mentioned, SDS is working with the Road Haulage Association to consider HGV drivers’ skills needs and establish a sound evidence base. On 6 January, SDS issued an invitation to quote for research to gather the key information required, and it is hoped that a skills-focused plan of action will be in place by end of March. I hear in particular the pleas for the livestock haulage sector, which were made comprehensively, and I will ensure that tomorrow they are brought to the attention of SDS, with regard to the work that it is doing in the area.

The shortage of skilled workers is not unique to the freight transport industry, hence employers who are looking to recruit HGV drivers are in competition with other industry employers. To be successful, employers must be proactive and have an attractive offering. I welcome recent activity by the two freight trade associations—the RHA and the Freight Transport Association—in their campaigns to increase the visibility of career opportunities in the industry among young people, particularly young women. As we heard, there is poor gender balance in road haulage, so there is a real opportunity for the sector to consider how it can attract more women and widen the available pool of talent. I would, of course, be happy to meet Christian Allard to discuss the RHA campaign to which he referred. I am perhaps too old to have seen the cartoon to which Mark McDonald referred, but he has the genesis of a good idea. Cartoons are a means of communication, and how the message is communicated is very important.

Not long ago, I spoke to a large company that is involved in haulage. It felt that the fact that young people are not taken on quickly after finishing school is a problem, because they vote with their feet and choose to do something else—they look elsewhere to get their training while earning a wage. However, I recognise that, as members such as David Stewart and Mark McDonald said, insurance is a huge obstacle. It is a big outlay and work must be done with the insurance sector to see what reasonable steps can be taken in that regard.

There has been a lot of activity. The Scottish Government works well with the trade associations and the Scottish freight and logistics advisory group, with which much debate has taken place.

Chic Brodie referred to work to ensure that we do not lose what are in essence the transferable skills of our veterans in the area of HGV activity and in many other sectors. In December 2015, Keith Brown held a meeting with military representatives. It was recognised that our veterans have a range of key skills and experience and that the task at hand will be to identify both barriers and opportunities in facilitating access to employment for them, to ensure that their skill set is embraced and not lost to the Scottish economy.

In conclusion, I thank again everyone who has participated in the debate. The Scottish Government recognises the importance of a skilled workforce and its contribution to supporting economic growth. It is beyond doubt that the Scottish economy needs efficient, sustainable and robust freight transport in order to meet growing customer demands and to compete effectively in a global economy.

I am confident that through the Scottish Government’s well-established partnership with freight stakeholders we can work collaboratively together, as Joan McAlpine stressed, to address the challenges that lie ahead and make Scotland a place where businesses can grow and flourish.

Meeting closed at 17:46.