"Economic headwinds blew Cross Transport off course

Shortly after it entered insolvency proceedings, administrator David Kemp said many haulage firms had struggled during 2022, blaming rising fuel prices and the professional driver shortage as well as many companies in the industry operating under the pressure of thin margins."

motortransport.co.uk 8 September 2023

So, we have:

“Rising fuel prices”;
“Professional driver shortage”;
“Companies operating under the pressure of thin margins”.

Let us take the first point, “rising fuel prices”. Not a lot the industry can do here it’s been a contentious issue for many years and every transport operator is in the same position.

Despite the decades of grumblings from the RHA, the government appears not to be doing much for the industry concerning fuel prices, and why would it? The tax the industry pays is considerable. Transport is, in the the words of Sir Humphrey from Yes Minister, “a vote loser”.

Moving onto “professional driver shortage”. During the RHA international conferences in the 1980s the issues of driver shortages within the next three decades was mentioned. It was suggested that the trade bodies form a section, funded by the industry, to take a “road show” similar to those of the high-end consultants such as PwC and EY to visit universities to interview interested and suitable candidates.

This road show would take the industry into schools and collages to enthuse and entice young people into the industry. Did anything happen? No of course not. Now there is a 50,000+(TBC) driver and general staff shortage in the UK alone.

Onto “companies operating under the pressure of thin margins”. So why is this? Are there more transport companies in the market than needed? If that was the case, why is there a driver shortage?

The bulk of the road transport network is operated by companies that operate one to 10 trucks. By the very nature of the operation the vehicle can only work for 25% of the seven-day day week.

Just imagine a Boeing or Airbus arriving in Heathrow and the pilot telling the ground staff “park it over there and I’ll be back in 12 hours after my break”.

Of course not; if airlines worked like that they would be bankrupt in a week. The plane lands, is cleaned, refuelled, reloaded, recrewed and off within an hour or so.

The industry needs to become more efficient if margins are to be increased and for that more staff are needed. There is the problem - where do they come from?

I am not staying these are the only issues and solutions but for the industry to improve, root and branch changes are needed, someone has to start the process.

Graham Manchester, former haulier, Poole