4838A major shortage of lorry drivers could pose a threat to the British economy and put Christmas deliveries at risk, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) has warned.

The industry is tens of thousands of drivers short of the number that is needed, according to the organisation, which represents more than 8,000 haulage companies.

RHA’s chief executive, Richard Burnett, said: “We are short of between 45,000 and 50,000 drivers and the situation is getting worse. Thousands of older drivers are leaving the industry and younger people can’t afford the £3,000 it costs to get a truck licence. The government could help, but won’t.

“They should support a truck-driving apprenticeship but are refusing to do so; even though they are forcing the larger trucking firms to pay the new apprenticeship levy.

“As far as the RHA is concerned, that amounts to little more than just a tax on payroll. What young person can find £3,000 without some help? This shortage is grave and presents a real threat to Christmas and to economic growth.”

More than 85% of all goods bought in the UK are carried by a lorry at some stage in the supply chain.

The road freight industry and its associated warehousing operations employ more than 2.2 million people.

Burnett added: “Our industry is the lifeblood of our economy. The government can and must do more to help with this driver shortage crisis. Its failure to do so is now posing a real threat to the UK’s economic recovery.”

The RHA is lobbying MPs as part of its first National Lorry Week. The industry will also be holding events across the UK to draw attention to the situation.

Van delivery drivers are gearing up for what is anticipated to be a record volume of parcels to distribute as shoppers increase online spending in the runup toChristmas.

There are 3.5m vans registered in Britain and about 40,000 delivery drivers, with retailers competing to offer the fastest or cheapest deliveries.