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Few sectors are more critical to the smooth functioning of our economy than road haulage. It is the vital link between manufacturer and customer, food grower and retailer, petrochemical plant to petrol station and – increasingly important - online traders and their customers.

More than two-thirds - 68 per cent – of freight goods in the UK are moved by road and the distance travelled by hauliers tops 10,000 million miles every year.

It’s not a sector that enjoys the appreciation it merits. Hauliers are typically depicted as big beefy men revelling in the role of road hogs while biting down on Yorkie Bars. And who likes being stuck behind a lorry on Scotland’s winding and twisty rural roads?

Much of the industry is made up of small firms. And there is a widely held belief among hauliers that it is an over-regulated industry. It has to take each new legislative change on cost and staff training expenditure on the chin - while still trying to attract new employees to an industry where overnight and weekend work, often in gruelling conditions such as the past few weeks, is part of the rota.

Little wonder it has a problem in attracting new recruits to meet the current driver shortage.  The average age of drivers is well over 50 and insurance costs make the recruitment of young drivers challenging.

The Freight Transport Association is planning a summit conference in March to address driver shortage. And with the help of SNP MSP Chic Brodie, who sits on the parliament’s economy committee, it has set up a parliamentary group, the Scottish Road Haulage Group, to address these and other issues, focussing on the smaller businesses who usually miss out on what funding is available. The first meeting will be held today (January 20).

The Road Haulage Association considers the problem to be a combination of a poor industry image, insufficient funding for training and a consequent inability to attract young people into the industry. They proposed that the government adopt a similar approach to funding vocation courses, such as HGV training, as it does to A-level students at college, who can access funding to support their studies.

Says the FTA’s James Hookham, “We are facing a long-term challenge to attract and recruit people to professional driving. We need to up our game in recruitment practices and start addressing some deep seated problems in the industry. We also need to ensure government and other agencies are on our side and that we make best use of the support and funding that is already available.”

The support and funding is not easy to access, and in an industry where there is a preponderance of small businesses, this is unlikely to change until the application process is simplified.

Whilst some might argue that it is up to the businesses to understand how to apply, the reality is that small business owners will not, as they are fully employed running their businesses.