Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps visits Arla distribution centre, where 1/10 of all milk sold in the UK travels through.

It was a chilly constituency Friday for Mr Shapps, as he was invited to tour the 235,000 square foot refrigerated distribution facility, which sees 520 million litres of fresh milk pass through it each year.

Opened in 2013, the facility operates 24/7, 364 days a year, delivering brands such as Cravendale to stores around the country, to retailers like Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s. The centre employs a team of 500 people, 60% of which are Welwyn Hatfield residents.

Prior to the tour of the distribution centre, Mr Shapps sat down with Ash Amirahmadi- Managing Director of Arla Foods UK- and other members of the local team to discuss the challenges and pressures facing the company, and food distribution more widely, during the covid pandemic.

At the centre of discussions was the HGV driver shortage. At Arla, HGV salaries have been going up to meet demand for drivers- with annual salaries of £50,000-£70,000 depending on shift pattern.

A spokesperson of Arla Foods said: “We were delighted to welcome Grant Shapps to Arla Hatfield. We had a very constructive and positive discussion about our cooperative and the wider dairy sector with him, both as our local MP and as the Transport Secretary. We look forward to continuing to work closely together in the future.”

Mr Shapps said: “It’s been really great to come to Arla, and hear first hand how businesses with a presence in my own constituency have been reacting to the international HGV driver shortage, as well as how the company has adapted to doing business post-covid.

“I commend Arla for their commitment to improving pay and conditions for HGV drivers. Increases in pay, starting a driving academy to train new drivers, as well as a programme to rehabilitate former prisoners to drive lorries and improvements to their facilities- all of these things will help make driving an HGV a more attractive career choice for those looking to get into the industry. Our plan seems to be working, with 1,000 provisional HGV licenses being applied for each day- that’s 3 times higher than before the pandemic.

“As Transport Secretary, I’ve put together a list of 25 separate measures to help ease the pressure on businesses like Arla- including increasing driving test capacity at the DVSA to clear the covid backlog, making those tests faster by stream-lining them and getting the army in to take on some of the strain in the short-term.

“These measures, combined with the hard work of the food distributors I’ve met today, will keep our supplies stocked as the global economy gets back up and running.”