East Anglian family haulage firm Bartrum Group has weathered the “perfect storm” of Brexit, driver shortages, “extortionate” agency rates and the Covid-19 pandemic to deliver a 53% rise in pre-tax profit in 2020.

In its latest annual results to 31 December 2020, the group reported that whilst revenue had fallen to £26.1m (2019: £31m), pre-tax profits had risen to £2.3m (2019: £1.5m), aided by falling sales and administration costs.

The company, which is a Hazchem and Pallet Track member, operates a fleet of around 150 trucks and 300 trailers from its headquarters in Eye, East Anglia and employs around 235 staff.

Speaking to, MD Robert Bartrum, said this year the group is continuing to see strong demand for its general haulage, bulk haulage, pallet delivery and warehousing services.

He added: “We have seen a very busy year, despite the perfect storm of Brexit and Covid-19, the fuel crisis and the impact of IR35 on the driver shortage – which I believe had a bigger impact on the driver shortage than Brexit.

“We have never seen the like of it before, with so many challenges all at once, and extortionate agency prices which have gone through the roof. But we feel that we have turned a corner in the past few weeks.

“We are also getting a lot of drivers through our driver training school now and some drivers are coming back into the sector now the rates are going up.”

After losing a number of drivers to competitors and seeing agency rates soar from £10 an hour to £25 an hour, Bartrums decided to advertise its training school on social media for the first time, which resulted in over 50 enquiries.

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“The training school has been a godsend. Loads of people applied. We decided to take on van drivers, mainly as they already had some experience in commercial driving,” Bartrum explained, adding that the group’s training school has seen 11 drivers graduate in the past three weeks.

Training is paid for by the group with drivers required to repay £500 back, in small amounts from their monthly wage, which is fully reimbursed if they stay past two years.

Bartrum added that the group has also taken on a number of HGV drivers who have returned to the industry, lured by the rise in driver rates and improved conditions.

“We have had to put up our driver rates five times this year - a rise of 20% in total. So by default we have been able to raise our client rates which means we can pay our drivers a better salary, which we are always very happy to do, so long that is matched by the rates we receive,” he added.

Recent road improvements to the A11 and A14 has also helped boost the company’s warehousing business. “It is so much quicker to get around East Anglia now and that has attracted new clients, along with our proximity to Felistowe Port,” Bartrum said, adding that there had been an increase in clients wanting to stockpile goods in the run up to the peak season.

The petrol pump crisis also impacted on the company, with the group seeing fuel prices rise from £1.06 a litre to £1.18 a litre in just three weeks, as the crisis unfolded last month.

“Our suppliers said they’d been told by the government to hold off delivering to hauliers in favour of delivering to the fuel stations, so we did get low on fuel supplies last week but by the end of this week we should be back to normal,” Bartrum said.

Looking to the future, he added: “I am optimistic, although Covid-19 and ‘flu could see some problems this winter, we feel we have turned a corner. We are really busy, demand is strong across all divisions, so we are confident of a good year ahead.”