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Don’t Blame Brexit For Driver Shortages

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Brexit

Don’t blame Brexit for driver shortages – our brainless bureaucracy is the real culprit

Harold Macmillan said that the thing he feared most in government was, “Events, dear boy, events”. In this, he was right. It is seldom policy issues that determine how governments are viewed by the public, but how they handle unexpected events.

The Government is finding just how difficult it can be to retain control while being buffeted by the unexpected.

Perhaps the best illustration of this is the HGV driver shortage affecting the supply of fuel and food. Some broadcasters and journalists have lazily labelled this as a Brexit problem without looking any further, yet this is simply untrue. This is a European-wide issue and the culprit is coronavirus. The origins of this chronic shortage lie in the long-term implications of locking down so completely.

The total European shortfall of HGV drivers is now more than 400,000. For example, even in Poland it’s 124,000 drivers, in the UK it’s 60,000, and in Germany it’s about the same as the UK but forecast to rise to 185,000 drivers by 2027.

The reality is that, all over Europe, when countries locked down many drivers went home and many more were furloughed, then retired. This was made worse as all testing of new drivers was stopped, something which could have been avoided, particularly if the authorities had used avilable Covid PCR or lateral-flow tests to allow prospective drivers to qualify. To give you a sense of how chronically stupid the bureaucratic thinking was, the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency also stopped motorcycle testing – even though those being tested were all alone on their bikes.

What we now see are the aftershocks of lockdown decision-making beginning to buffet us. There has clearly been little forward thinking or planning.

The Confederation of British Industry, which quickly blamed Brexit for the current shortages, instead should recognise that industry leaders themselves must shoulder a significant measure of blame. I recall before Brexit, when as Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions I questioned why hauliers did so little to invest in their industry by training drivers, particularly when the shortages were already becoming known, the hauliers responded that British people wouldn’t do the job. In response, my department bought a number of places on courses to test their theory, and found that they were filled by applicants in days, and well over three-quarters subsequently passed. The hauliers’ theory was wrong: there were plenty of people with drivers licences who would have loved to train but couldn’t afford the cost of the course. The reality was that cheaper drivers from overseas led to short-term decisions.

Some years ago, when I left the Scots Guards, I chose to qualify as an HGV driver. I remember well the endless journeys around Liverpool during the leisurely two-week course. Although some years later I didn’t renew my licence, I remember how, even then, I could see the scope to compress the course into a matter of a few days, something which should have been done years ago.

From the short-sightedness of the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency to the failure of the hauliers to invest in British drivers, it is clear that the driver shortage could have been alleviated. I’m not sure how visa changes will help much now, when all Europe is also searching for drivers.

On top of that, with energy prices rising and energy companies going to the wall, we discover that this year was the first year we have issued a North Sea exploration licence since 2016, and that we have the smallest strategic supplies of gas in Europe. The PM’s announcement that investing in British, not Chinese, nuclear is the way ahead is correct, but the reality, as we try to achieve net zero, is that we will still need fossil fuels for some time yet if we want to keep the cars running and the lights on.

With growth levels stalled, inflation set to rise to 4 per cent and Christmas looming, the Government needs to move swiftly to avoid a perfect storm. Those on the lowest incomes will bear the brunt of a cost of living rise – it’s surely time to re-think the cut to Universal Credit, or at least delay it until we know where we are in four months.

A reputation for competence is vital for a government. The handling of events, as Macmillan knew, has the capacity to damage a government’s reputation or imbue the public with renewed confidence in it. It’s in the Government’s hands to decide which.

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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ from global food shortage

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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ from global food shortage

The head of the United Nations warned Friday that the world faces “catastrophe” because of the growing shortage of food around the globe.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the war in Ukraine has added to the disruptions caused by climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and inequality to produce an “unprecedented global hunger crisis” already affecting hundreds of millions of people.

“There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022,” he said in a video message to officials from dozens of rich and developing countries gathered in Berlin. “And 2023 could be even worse.”

Guterres noted that harvests across Asia, Africa and the Americas will take a hit as farmers around the world struggle to cope with rising fertilizer and energy prices.

“This year’s food access issues could become next year’s global food shortage,” he said. “No country will be immune to the social and economic repercussions of such a catastrophe.”

Guterres said U.N. negotiators were working on a deal that would enable Ukraine to export food, including via the Black Sea, and let Russia bring food and fertilizer to world markets without restrictions.

He also called for debt relief for poor countries to help keep their economies afloat and for the private sector to help stabilize global food markets.

The Berlin meeting’s host, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, said Moscow’s claim that Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were to blame for food shortages was “completely untenable.”

Russia exported as much wheat in May and June this year as in the same months of 2021, Baerbock said.

She echoed Guterres’ comments that several factors underlie the growing hunger crisis around the world.

“But it was Russia’s war of attack against Ukraine that turned a wave into a tsunami,” Baerbock said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that Russia has no excuse for holding back vital goods from world markets.

“The sanctions that we’ve imposed on Russia collectively and with many other countries exempt food, exempt food products, exempt fertilizers, exempt insurers, exempt shippers,” he said.

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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

Local and federal highways in the North-west have become vulnerable as bandits continue to ambush and abduct travellers.

The gunmen who abducted 29 people returning to Zamfara State from Sokoto State where they had gone to attend the wedding of colleagues have released them after the payment of an unspecified ransom.

The victims, who were mostly dealers of mobile phones and phone accessories at Bebeji Communication Market (Bebeji Plaza) in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State were abducted in Sokoto 13 days ago.

Secretary of the GSM Dealers Association in the state, Ashiru Zurmi, confirmed the release of the victims but didn’t give details.

One of the victims reportedly died in captivity.

Though the amount paid as ransom to secure the release of the hostages has not been revealed, Abdullahi Lawal, whose brother was among those abducted, said their relatives were asked to make donations. He said his family raised N33,000 while the phone sellers’ association “provided the remaining money.”

“Every family was told to gather N400,000 while the members of the plaza and their colleagues in the state provided the remaining money. Some family members were able to raise the money in full, but we couldn’t. I took the money to the plaza and I was told that they were still negotiating with the bandits” he said.

He said he didn’t know how much was given to the bandits “but I’m happy that my brother is okay,” he said.

From N5m to N700,000

A phone accessories seller, Sharhabilu Muhammad, told PREMIUM TIMES over the phone that the officials of the phone dealers association negotiated with the bandits to reduce the ransom they originally demanded to release the captives.

“You know that the initial money they said was N5m for each of the captives but our officials kept negotiating with them (bandits) until they reduced the money to N700k,” he said.

When asked about the person who reportedly died in captivity, Mr Muhammed said his identity has not been revealed.

“We don’t know because even the bandits didn’t tell but we’ll surely find out when they (captives) arrive at Gusau tonight,” he added.

The police command spokesman, Mohammed Shehu, didn’t respond to calls and SMS sent to him on the development.

Backstory

PREMIUM TIMES reported that the wedding guests were abducted when bandits opened fire on the two buses they were travelling in a few kilometres after Bimasa in the Dogon Awo junction, Sokoto State.

They were returning from Tambuwal town in Sokoto State where they had attended the wedding of a colleague, Jamil Umar.

The captives were travelling on a Toyota Coaster bus belonging to the Universal Basic Education Commission UBEC and another bus owned by Gusau Local Government.

The bandits had demanded a ransom of N145 million to release the 29 hostages.

Bandits have been terrorising North-west states and a part of North-central Nigeria, killing and displacing hundreds of people and rustling domestic animals.

Travelling on federal and local highways is becoming dangerous as bandits block roads, abduct and kill motorists.

Major federal highways including Abuja-Kaduna, Gusau-Sokoto-Birnin Kebbi, and Birnin Gwari-Kaduna have become travellers’ nightmares with attacks and abduction or killing of travellers becoming a daily occurrence.

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Reps demand review of public officers’ salaries, allowances

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Reps demand review of public officers’ salaries, allowances

A motion seeking the intervention of the House of Representatives in the conflict between the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, and Justices of the Supreme Court, over issues bordering on welfare and working conditions suffered a setback on Thursday.

While the House called for a general review of salaries and allowances of all political office holders and public servants, the members were divided over which committees should handle the task.

The Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Onofiok Luke, had moved a motion to seek the intervention of the chamber in the crisis rocking the apex court and better welfare package for judicial officers across the courts.

Luke, who moved the motion titled, ‘Need to Address the Deteriorating Working Conditions of Judicial Officers,’ prayed the House to urge the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to upwardly review the remuneration of judicial officers in line with present economic realities.

The lawmaker prayed the House to urge the Federal Government to increase the budgetary allocation of the judiciary for the upcoming fiscal year and provide special intervention funds for the development of the arm

He further prayed the House to mandate the Committee on Judiciary to ensure compliance and report back within six weeks for further legislative action.

While the lawmakers were making amendments to the prayers, the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase, called for an upward review of the welfare package of all public office holders.

Wase, who stated that he appreciated the memo from the Justices to the CJN, noted that only the RMAFC had the responsibility to review remuneration of government officials.

The Deputy Speaker made reference to a part of the motion that read, ‘The remuneration of judicial officers was last reviewed in 2008 by the RMAFC when the official exchange rate was N117.74 to $1, whereas the naira has considerably depreciated.’

Wase partly said, “I think this particular element does not affect just judicial officers, maybe because they cried out now. I don’t think it is right that we have to wait every time until people write letters of complaints and there is protest before we begin to do the right thing.”

Rephrasing Wase’s proposed amendment, Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, said: “The DSP’s amendment is that we should not isolate the Judiciary and all those enumerated constitutional bodies and public office holders. They should be reviewed; a comprehensive review based on all the things that Hon Luke said – the exchange rates and this and that.”

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