Grant Schapps MP

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett has paid tribute to the “positive response” from transport secretary Grant Schapps MP (pictured) to a set of measures requested to support the haulage industry through the coronavirus epidemic.

In a letter to Schapps seen by MT, Burnett warned that his members were “reporting catastrophic effects on their businesses” and the government needs to make “immediate financial intervention” to prevent mass bankruptcies.

"I am in regular contact with Grant Schapps and am confident he understands the scale of the problem,” Burnett told MT.

"He has been a breath of fresh air after his predecessor and has confirmed that the government recognises logistics as a critical industry and its staff are key workers."

Burnett has called for HGV drivers to be given priority for testing for the coronoavirus and criticised supermarkets for "coralling" drivers close together in small waiting rooms. "That is massive risk and has to stop," he said.

Waiting area

In addition to the £330bn package to support all businesses in the UK announced by the Chancellor on Tuesday the measures sought by the RHA specifically for hauliers include: enforced payment holidays with leasing companies; road fund licence reductions; deferment of Clean Air Zones and the Direct Vision Standard for at least six months; relaxation of lorry road tolls; and fuel duty reductions for essential users.

Almost half of all the food consumed in the UK is imported, and while P&O Ferries has pledged to maintain its sailings, which carry over 44,000 pieces of freight every week, Burnett warned that restrictions on cross-border movements in continental Europe could soon see falling import volumes.

As a result he said that the relaxation of drivers’ hours rules for retail deliveries “missed the point” as hauliers delivering products for manufacturers were also under severe pressure. “As imports come under threat we will have to manufacture as much food as possible in the UK,” he said. “Container volumes from China have dropped by over 70% and we are now seeing issues with the flow of raw materials, retail product and food from across Europe.”

The RHA is making efforts to help the transfer of drivers from sectors such as events and hospitality where business has collapsed to the grocery sector to alleviate pressure on drivers who are now allowed to drive two hours extra each day.