Sargents Trucking Services

Events hauliers are counting the cost of the coronavirus outbreak this week as multiple conferences, exhibitions and music events continue to be either cancelled or postponed across the UK and Europe.

As the Italian government moves to lock down the entire country this week and Germany, France and Switzerland impose bans on large gatherings, UK events hauliers are reporting plummeting workloads.

Major events cancelled or postponed include the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, MIPIM in Cannes, the Geneva International Car Show, the London Book Fair, the IT Trans Exhibition in Karlsruhe in Germany and the FMX 2020 event in Stuttgart.

Coventry-based Sargents Trucking Services has been hit by the cancellation of both the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and the Geneva International Motor Show.

Owner Simon Sargent told MT: “We have had wasted trips and lost revenue. In fact, every haulier, forwarder and events supplier, and staff are currently experiencing mass job cancellations and the immediate future looks bleak for all concerned.

“All our booked work has been cancelled or postponed, and I know all of our colleagues are in the same position. Trucking has never been easy but at the moment I don't think it's ever been harder, with many sectors suffering the same pain.

“The only bright spot is the falling price of diesel - sadly we've got little need of it at the moment.”

Richard Warren, MD of Sittingbourne-based Fleetwood Transport, told a similar story. “We had a full diary for March, April and May but it’s all gone – 100% wiped out, nothing has survived.

“Last week we had an event in Stuttgart cancelled as we were on our way to it and another event in Karlsruhe cancelled as we arrived.”

Warren questioned the need to cancel or postpone smaller events and called for clearer advice from the government.

“I delivered to an event in Olympia on Saturday and was told on Sunday to pick it up as it was not going ahead.

“But while that event of around 3,000 to 4,000 people was cancelled, there were 40,000 spectators attending a football match four miles away. It does not make sense.”

The company is trying to diversify into other sectors whilst the coronavirus outbreak continues but faces some challenges.

“We operate low chassis, 40 tonne, five-axle vehicles, suited to the events sector which means we are not suited to carrying bricks, blocks and cement which requires six axles and 44 tonners,” he said.

Nor is he hopeful the fall in diesel prices will ease the impact.

“Whenever the price of diesel goes down, the rates go down – especially if there are a lot of trucks chasing the work,” he said.

Martin Cowie, logistics manager at Staines-based FCL Events Logistics, said the firm, which operates 25 trucks and employs 30 staff, has been forced to make some drivers redundant.

“It is devastating. It has hit the whole sector and we are all in the same boat,” he said. “We have had to take some measures to compensate for the loss of business and so we’ve had to lay off four or five drivers that we took on in January - which was hard, as they are good drivers.”

Cowie said suppliers have been supportive but added that some clients are delaying payments. “Our suppliers are trying to help us every way they can, but everyone is holding money back across Europe at the moment, so it is taking a lot longer to get paid.”

Gary Bath, MD of Bristol-based Bath International Transport, said the impact of the coronavirus outbreak had been “horrendous” on the business, which runs a fleet of eight trucks.

“We have had nine shows cancelled, mostly in Europe, three of which were cancelled as we were on our way to the event.”

“We are keeping our heads down and carrying on. We are trying to find work to plug the gap in general haulage and hoping it will be over soon – but that is the million-dollar question – when will it be over?