Operators across the UK are expected to lower subcontractor rates in light of falling fuel prices, said the RHA, after it emerged Wincanton’s general haulage operation had reviewed subcontractor rates for this reason.

A letter sent to the business’s subcontractors explained that it had “no mechanism for cost recovery during times of lower fuel prices”, while its customers did. This, the letter said, meant Wincanton had to pass cost cuts to customers to reflect the cheaper diesel, which it does not “receive in kind from its haulier partners”.

Nick Deal, fleet development manager at the RHA, said that operators are likely to see a lot more of this. “Fuel prices fell throughout 2015, so I suspect lots of people have made moves like this.

“The problem with this industry is that people will cut each other’s throats for another fiver,” he said.

A Wincanton spokesman said: “Wincanton periodically reviews its rate cards to ensure they reflect the marketplace fairly. Following the recent fall in fuel prices we have reviewed rates in our general haulage business to ensure we continue to offer the highest levels of service in a competitive market.

“We have been in contact with our partners affected by this change and are working with them to respond to any queries they may have.”

The lower rates took effect on 25 January, but Wincanton said it would review the fuel market every quarter.

Stewart Franks, director of South Cave, Humberside-based Saftrans and long-standing Wincanton subcontractor, told Motortransport.co.uk: “I don’t think it’s fair, because it didn’t give us a rate increase when prices were much higher.

“We’ve been on the same rates for about eight years, and three or four years ago fuel costs were sky high, and it didn’t give us extra to help with costs then. I think this is a bit nasty.”

He added: “It is taking advantage of the situation because its customers have backed it into a corner.”