Page last updated at 11:20 GMT, Thursday, 7 May 2009 12:20 UK

Recession 'hitting lorry numbers'

Lorry drivers and the owner of a haulage firm on the impact of the recession

The number of lorries on UK roads has fallen dramatically, with the cut being linked to the recession, Department for Transport figures show.

The total fell 12% in the first quarter of this year on the same period in 2008, and 7% in the previous quarter.

The number of lorry drivers looking for work is reported to have increased fivefold in the past 12 months.

The Road Haulage Association says the sector is losing jobs more quickly than almost any other.

The RHA estimates that there are one million people in the UK who rely on the haulage and logistics industry for work.

Overall traffic levels fell 3.5% year-on-year in the first three months of 2009, with motorway traffic down 5%.

Fall in congestion

The haulage sector is suffering in large part because of a fall-off in consumer demand for certain products, such as furniture and cars.

Fewer items being bought means fewer are also being manufactured and imported, reducing the need for those workers who move goods around the country.

Data released by the Office for National Statistics shows that a year ago there were just over 3,000 lorry drivers receiving jobseeker's allowance in the UK.

Today that number is more than 15,000 - an increase even more dramatic than that for bricklayers and masons.

These figures are supported by a sharp fall in road congestion and traffic at the UK's major ports.

The company Trafficmaster has recorded 18 consecutive months of reductions in average congestion on motorways and major roads across England. This follows an average increase in every month between 2003 and mid-2007.

On the A14, for example, which connects the port of Felixstowe with the M1 and M6 motorways, congestion in March 2009 was 47% lower than in March 2008.

Experts are putting this change down to fewer HGV lorries.

The RHA says the haulage business is a key indicator of economic buoyancy and its survival is vital to Britain's recovery from the recession.

It also points out that hauliers have little or no opportunity to diversify in tough times, so they tend to feel the pinch even more keenly.

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