As an MP who has a full HGV licence and spent five years driving lorries and vans across Europe, I am disappointed with the Road Haulage Association (RHA). I think they are completely wrong to say the government should bring in lots of drivers from abroad. The people paying subs to the RHA may want access to cheap labour but that is not the answer. We have a solution right here on our doorstep – and one being put to good use at HMP Prescoed. On a visit last week, I met with three prisoners who have undergone training for employment in the haulage industry. They have gained placements with local transport companies, been offered jobs as HGV drivers, and will go straight into secure work when they are released.
This is a scheme I have been championing for several years; I first took it to the Ministry of Justice in 2016 after friends of mine in haulage complained about a shortage of drivers. It occurred to me that there must be HGV licence holders in prison. If these prisoners were able to obtain the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (mandatory classroom-based training for existing licence holders) there is a strong chance they could go straight into paid employment upon release. I was absolutely delighted to hear about the success at HMP Prescoed and I will keep pressing to get similar rehabilitation projects rolled-out more widely.
All new road-building projects in Wales are being frozen while the Welsh Government conducts a review. At such a delicate time, it’s a decision which could prove a significant blow for our economic recovery. There are new transport infrastructure projects desperately needed in Wales; Chepstow bypass being a prime example. Regular traffic jams deter investment and have contributed to the A48 at Hardwick Hill having some of the worst air quality in the UK. The review will be conducted by a recently announced external panel and I have grave concerns in particular over timescales. Welsh Government has directed the Roads Review Panel to set out its appraisal method within three months and it’s going to be nine months before we can expect a final report. I have written to Deputy Climate Change Minister Lee Waters to request a guarantee that the panel will be open minded as to the importance of building more roads in Wales to ease traffic congestion and air pollution.
*Published in the Monmouthshire Beacon on 6 October 2021 and the Abergavenny Chronicle on 7 October 2021*