Growth in haulage rates slowed almost to a halt in the first three months of the year, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Average haulage rates grew by just 0.1% against a 2005 baseline in the first quarter of 2013, down from 0.2% during the final quarter of 2012, the latest Services Producer Price Index from the ONS has revealed.

The Q1 growth rate compares poorly to the same period last year, when growth reached 0.7%, and also to the first quarter of 2011, when it was 1.2%. It suggests total haulage rate growth during 2013 could fall well short of the 1.4% annual growth rate achieved last year.

The latest figures have not surprised the Road Haulage Association, whose survey of members in January showed that few, if any, vehicle operators expected rates to rise this year.

“This fully vindicates what our members told us in mid-January – that they saw no prospect of getting an increase in haulage rates,” said RHA director of policy, Jack Semple. “It’s a very tough market.”

Those tough conditions are likely to lead to two main things, added Semple: renewed emphasis on cost-cutting and more firms going under.

“People are looking wherever they can to make savings, with intense pressure on every area of cost,” he said. “We’ve seen a real surge in interest in and take-up of telematics systems, for example.

"And I’d be surprised if we don’t see more casualties [in the industry]: quietly, there is a lot of consolidation and reshaping going on in parts of the industry. We’re picking up more and more examples of that and of firms just getting out of the business.”