Consumers could see empty shelves this Christmas because of a lack of lorry drivers, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) has warned.

The industry is tens of thousands of drivers short of the number that is needed, according to the organisation, which represents more than 8,000 trucking companies.

Chief executive Richard Burnett said: 'We are short of between 45,000 and 50,000 drivers and the situation is getting worse. Thousands of older drivers are leaving the industry and younger people can't afford the £3,000 it costs to get a truck licence. The Government could help but won't.

"They should support a truck driving apprenticeship but are refusing to do so; even though they are forcing the larger trucking firms to pay the new apprenticeship levy.

"As far as the RHA is concerned, that amounts to little more than just a tax on payroll. What young person can find £3,000 without some help? This shortage is grave and presents a real threat to Christmas and to economic growth."

More than 85% of everything bought in the UK is carried by a truck at some stage in the supply chain. The road freight industry and its associated warehousing operations employ more than 2.2 million people and are a vital part of the UK economy.

Mr Burnett added: "Our industry is the life blood of our economy. The Government can and must do more to help with this driver shortage crisis. Its failure to do so is now posing a real threat to the UK's economic recovery."

The RHA is undertaking intensive lobbying of MPs this week as part of its first ever National Love a Lorry Week . The industry will also be holding many events across the UK to draw attention to the problem.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that the Trailblazer programme has seen more than 1,200 employers already helping to design apprenticeship training standards to meet the demands of their workplace.

Trailblazers are groups of employers working together to develop an apprenticeship standard for a particular occupation.

The spokesman added: "There are 187 standards already in place, covering industries from dentistry to aerospace."

Apprenticeship standards must meet minimum requirements for levels and quality of training.

"We are still working closely with the Logistics Trailblazer group and have provided feedback to help them develop their LGV (Large Goods Vehicle) Driver apprenticeship standard."

The Government is committed to delivering three million apprenticeship starts by 2020, the spokesman added.