UK Haulage Crisis – What’s happening and how to avoid haulage problems

UK Haulage Crisis – What’s happening and how to avoid haulage problems


5 minute read | By Denholm Good Logistics

Last updated: January 15, 2024 | Published: October 19, 2018


Chaotic seems to be an accurate word to describe the UK haulage industry at the moment. A combination of congestion at container ports and a massive shortage of HGV drivers are causing delays and frustration at various ports around the UK which means hitting timed delivery slots is becoming even more challenging for UK hauliers.

In light of the recent issues, we thought it would be helpful to provide a simple round up of the current problems and what you can do to avoid them affecting your supply chain.

Chronic Congestion at UK Ports

Felixstowe and Southampton are the UK’s two largest container ports, so when they experience problems, it often has a knock on effect to other ports in the UK. With delays mounting, ocean carriers are being forced to make last-minute diversions to other ports in the UK such as London Gateway, with some shippers switching to other UK ports like Liverpool in a bid to avoid problems.

Problems at Felixstowe started back in June 2018 when the implementation of a new terminal operating system caused an IT meltdown creating a large backlog of containers and delays to shipments. Add to this road congestion, a shortage of vehicles, drivers and rail availability and increased cargo volumes, it’s hardly surprising that UK haulage is experiencing significant issues. Due to strict schedules that ocean carriers and rail operators have to stick to; some operators are even leaving ports before all containers are discharged or loaded – causing even more hassle and further delays for shippers and additional costs such as rent and demurrage.

Shortage of HGV drivers in the UK

The UK haulage industry is struggling with a lack of drivers and is reportedly in need of around 75,000 more drivers to get up to full capacity. A lack of drivers means fewer available vehicles, a problem being exasperated by poor productivity in the ports. Unfortunately, container haulage is perceived to be less attractive than other types of HGV driving, so despite haulage firms trying their best to attract new drivers, they’re finding it difficult to fill the vacancies.

Concerns over Brexit are also on the mind of haulage companies, with worries that EU-native drivers may leave the UK, especially as non-UK based drivers account for a large percentage of container drivers. Also, firms are struggling to attract young talent into the industry, so as older drivers retire drivers aren’t easy to replace. Compounding the problems with recruiting drivers is the lack of owner-drivers.

All of these factors suggest that the actual cost of moving containers throughout the UK is much higher than the market is willing to pay – a problem that won’t be fixed overnight. Inevitably haulage companies will flounder under this pressure, which will only worsen the situation further.

Our advice to customers is to be as organised as possible and plan well in advance whenever you can. While it used to be commonplace to book haulage with a three-day turnaround, freight forwarders are now needing to book at least 10-12 days in advance to secure haulage.

So how can shippers avoid getting caught up in delays?

Paul Ferguson, Sales Director for John Good Logistics, has this advice, “We’ve been recommending customers use Northern ports such as Liverpool, especially those based in the North West.”

Since Liverpool opened its deepwater Liverpool2 terminal in 2016 it offers enlarged terminal capacity, an absence of demurrage and detention charges and faster truck turnaround times and available haulage.

Paul continues, “Shipping to Liverpool is often dismissed as not being viable because any cost saving can be outweighed by the additional transit time of 4-5 days. However, with the current issues regarding port congestion following the issues Felixstowe faced with the new IT systems and the general shortage of haulage in the industry, the delays and disruption being experienced on arrival at many of the UK’s main ports mean the door to door transits are now comparative. This is not just Liverpool but other UK feeder ports such as Immingham, Teeside and Grangemouth, which, are all now becoming more attractive propositions.

Additional benefits include a reduction in road miles and of course the environmental benefits also associated with this kind of move. For customers of John Good Logistics, we can also offer flexible haulage options because we operate our own trailers in the UK.”

Where can I find more information?

With a dedicated team of experienced professionals all over the UK, we offer in-depth, specialist knowledge of all UK ports and the UK haulage market, we’re therefore fully informed about the latest developments which may affect our customers.

Please contact our local specialists who will be happy to advise on the best options for your business.

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