Councils confident shortage of lorry drivers will not leave Northamptonshire motorists skating on icy roads this winter

Fears played down that salt-spreaders may be next after disruptions to county waste collection and bus services

Monday, 18th October 2021, 9:12 am
Updated Monday, 18th October 2021, 9:14 am

Council chiefs are confidence the national shortage of lorry drivers will not leave Northamptonshire motorists skating on icy roads this winter.

Authorities are struggling to empty bins and bus operators have seen cancellations on routes across the county in recent weeks.

But fears that gritters, which spread salt to make roads safe in freezing or snowy weather, could be the next service affected are being played down locally.

National Highways is confident they will have enough drivers to grit the county's motorways and main routes and Northamptonshire Highways, which is responsible for nearly 1,200 miles of tarmac, insists it has "a full complement of drivers".

David Renard, transport spokesperson for the Local Government Association, which represents all councils in England and Wales, said last week: ‘While most councils have been able to keep services running, some may find that their gritting services are affected in the same way that some have seen waste collection services impacted.

“Councils are keen to work with Government and partners to support more training for these demand sectors, however this is a lengthy process and does not alleviate the short term pressures on frontline services."

Some meteorologists are warning of a cold snap with the chance of snow across the southern half of England before the end of October.

National Highways are rolling out 47 state-of-the art new gritters on Northamptonshire's key routes

A spokesman for National Highways, which looks after motorways and main trunk roads which run through the county, confirmed the agency has 1,300 drivers and is confident it will cope.

It also has 47 of its 120 new state-of-the-art gritters covering roads in Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Warwickshire, Rutland and Oxfordshire this year.

The new vehicles are equipped with technology using information from 250 weather stations which allows gritting routes to be uploaded directly into the vehicle, helping advise drivers where to go and which lanes to treat.

Waste collections across Northamptonshire have been disrupted all summer by a shortage of drivers.

That was initially blamed on Covid-19 forcing staff to self isolate then on the national shortage of drivers which has also impacted petrol and retail supplies and public transport.

West Northamptonshire Council cabinet member Phil Larratt said last month: “National shortages of HGV drivers has been hot news in recent months and this is continuing to cause us issues, particularly when we have refuse and recycling vehicle drivers absent."

A spokesman for Stagecoach said the operator was continuing to run 99 percent of its services, but admitted: "As is the case with many organisations and sectors in the economy, the pandemic is continuing to impact our business.

"Issues such as Brexit and the DVLA taking longer to process bus driver licences has added to these challenges beyond our control."

There are also growing concerns that truckers could be tempted to switch jobs as some firms raise wages in a bid to solve staff shortages. Drivers at a supermarket warehouse in Northampton have given a 25 percent pay rise.

Ministers have responded to warnings about empty shelves in the run up to Christmas by easing restrictions on European lorry drivers being allowed to work in the UK.