Funding sought for HGV training academy in Mid and East Antrim

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council is seeking funding from the Department for Communities to provide a second HGV driver training academy.

It is one of a number of academies that have been facilitated by the local authority in sectors including health and social care, hospitality, childminding, welding and retail and has resulted in almost half of participants gaining employment with 63 of 135 trainees securing jobs.

At a meeting of the council’s Borough Growth Committee on Monday evening, councillors approved £72k funding for further academies during 2022/23 in sectors that are experiencing “significant staff shortages”.

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It is anticipated that future academies may be funded through  the new Labour Market Partnership programme.

The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor William McCaughey, said: “The more we can deliver the better. I am more than happy to approve to delivery of what is truly needed in the business community.”

Bannside TUV Cllr Timothy Gaston commented: “Targeting the skills shortage that is out there is very important for our businesses to flourish  and to have that skill set available to them.

“We need the Northern Regional College to be playing their part. If our economy is to get off the ground, we need skilled people.”

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Currently, 18 participants are completing the pilot pre-employment HGV Driver Academy to gain an HGV Category C (Class 2) licence, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Seamus Leheny, policy manager Northern Ireland, Logistics UK, said recently: “There is an acute shortage of HGV drivers in NI. It is estimated we need around 2,000. Covid has had an impact plus Brexit meaning EU nationals cannot come to NI any more to work as HGV drivers which many businesses relied on.

“Only 0.8% of HGV drivers in NI are under 25 years with over 50% of drivers over the age of 50 so getting new drivers into the labour market is critical.”

At a previous Borough Growth meeting in September, councillors sounded an urgent warning over the hospitality industry after two local eateries were forced to close their doors due to lack of staff  and voiced concern over a knock-on effect for other businesses in the area saying that government needs to intervene.

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A survey of Hospitality Ulster members shows that 72% say they don’t support the proposed imposition of Covid Passports, as it would “inflict further damage to an industry that is still on its knees with businesses fighting for survival”.

Hospitality Ulster has called on the Executive to provide details on the proposed Covid Passports and has strongly urged the Executive to publish their economic impact assessment saying that the industry is at its most fragile point at any time during the crisis.

Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, stated: “Businesses in the industry are fighting for their very survival and cannot support additional measures that single them out and bring further damage to the sector.

“The Covid Passport and the reason for it has been talked about for some time but we are yet to hear anything from the Executive around the financial and operational implications if it goes ahead, especially just before the critical Christmas trading period.”

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter


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