Road Haulage Association

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Tag Archives: Working with government

Too wrapped up in red tape?

I met Transport Minister Mike Penning recently and discussed a wide range of issues that affect our members and an email update was sent out after the meeting. One way or another the issues all boiled down to legislation, so it was encouraging to hear that he is keen to get rid of bureaucracy by removing as much of the red tape that surrounds us as possible.

We have had similar initiatives before and it can be difficult to identify areas where life could be simplified without jeopardising the purpose of the legislation. This might be health and safety, employees’ rights, the environment or fair competition – the four main objectives of much of the legislation which applies to RHA members. So where can we see opportunities for simplification?

One obvious issue is the overlap between the Working Time Regulations and the Drivers’ Hours Regulations, which can appear to conflict with each other at best, and contradict each other at worst. But, sadly, the potential to tackle this nonsense is limited because the government is not in full control here. These are pieces of European legislation, so Westminster’s options are limited. Indeed, it may fall to the RHA, through its network of fellow associations across Europe, to get the process going and we know how long that can take.

We will be pursuing this and updating members if and when any progress is made. On the purely domestic front there are quite a few pieces of legislation we believe could be removed altogether or simplified to the benefit of RHA members. Take employment law for example. This is a field well known for its complexity, with many employers falling into legal ‘traps’ because they fail to follow complicated and – with justice in mind – unnecessary procedures that are well intentioned but contribute nothing to the fairness of the process overall. Why can’t we make dismissing someone guilty of gross misconduct much simpler? We have seen cases lost against people who have assaulted colleagues or clients because of procedural failures.

That cannot be right and the employer must have some protection in law just as much as the employee. The other area of law which is particularly – many would say ridiculously – complex is health and safety (H&S). However, I must qualify this by saying that much of the needless difficulty could well be caused by external H&S consultants or in-house managers who have become so risk-averse that they impose totally unreasonable demands on the poor visiting haulier. How many members carry a full wardrobe of PPE kit because the demands of consignors and consignees are different? The Health and Safety Executive is often unfairly blamed for the more ridiculous examples – the so-called ban on ladders being one example – but it can help by giving guidance along the lines of “please do not use H&S as a smokescreen for your own stupidity” as well as by simplifying the regulations themselves.

Working with government

It was a real pleasure to see the Secretary of State for Transport visiting our offices in Weybridge. As our local MP, we had already met Philip Hammond at a constituency event, but his acceptance of an invitation to visit the RHA and to be interviewed for ROADWAY gave us an opportunity to question one of the key decision-makers for our industry.

One refreshing aspect of his comments was the way that he readily acknowledged an old-fashioned view of the industry when he took up his post. More important was his recognition, having met hauliers, that ours is an industry which is often cutting edge and sophisticated and plays a key role in the UK economy. Such a change in opinion only comes from exposure to the realities of the modern road haulage industry, and we were delighted when he made the point that getting in touch with local MPs is a very effective way of lobbying.

This is why the RHA is developing Deliver UK, which will encourage members to get involved in a comprehensive programme designed to change the attitude of MPs and government.

The Transport Secretary made it very clear that the industry must embrace the concept of being “green”. Given that the vast majority of CO2 emissions in our sector come from using diesel fuel, there is little doubt that the “greening” of road haulage can be a win-win situation: burning less diesel means cost savings as well as producing less CO2.

We have seen some of the big players in the industry claiming to be green, and their contracts often impose similar obligations further down the supply chain. But how much of this is window dressing? How many times do so-called green companies force hauliers into inefficient operations for their own convenience? How many loads are shipped when the vehicle is well below capacity for spurious health and safety reasons? How many times is the transfer of freight from road to rail a glorified publicity stunt, which actually produces more CO2, not less?

We know there is a need to produce less CO2, but please can we have a degree of common sense? Can we have less box-ticking and more real action that genuinely does see the win-win situations that benefit hauliers as well as their customers?

Finally, it was also reassuring to hear that Mr Hammond is progressing with plans to level the playing field when it comes to foreign trucks. We hope that such a scheme does not affect the huge sections of our industry that do not face foreign competition. We also hope that the government does not overlook the fact that the compliance standards of foreign firms often falls way behind the UK operator. That is just as important to the level playing field as a road-user charge.

DECEMBER 2010

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