This is not an easy column to write and many people might feel uncomfortable with the content. But there is an elephant in the room that the road freight sector ignores at its peril.
Everyone in the supply chain has a responsibility to ensure that loads are carried by operators who take their obligations seriously and they must understand that, should the worst case happen and a vehicle be involved in a fatal crash, the role of original consignor and every contractor in the chain will be investigated. How many organisations choose to turn a blind eye to the way that loads are carried in their name? How many organisations take the necessary steps to ensure that fully-compliant operators carry all the loads that are carried in their name?
The trade press has recently featured a number of items referring to comments from various quarters about very low haulage rates which are currently – and regularly – being offered. Through the RHA’s four councils around the country, I hear such reports at almost every meeting. This is an issue that is neither new nor surprising, but what it represents should concern every customer and every haulier in the country, large or small – RHA member or not. The fact is that the levels of some rates being offered mean that the work these relate to cannot be done legally if it constitutes the majority of work that an operator is doing.
We all know that jobs which are below cost are sometimes justified because they, at least, reduce the cost of re-locating a vehicle: operators have to make a judge-ment call about such work. The problem is that some operators appear to rely on this kind of work and are therefore running at below cost most, if not all, of the time.
In such cases the operator is faced with the unpalatable choice of going bust or cutting corners by operating illegally and, regrettably, some choose the latter. This should of course be kept in proportion, and I am not suggesting for a second that such behaviour is commonplace – far from it.
The vast majority of operators in the industry make strenuous efforts to operate legally, but the fact is that a small minority
of operators who do cut corners deliberately put both road safety and the survival of other, reputable businesses at risk.
VOSA and the Traffic Commissioners have roles to play here: VOSA should be identifying the serially non-compliant and giving the Traffic Commissioners the evidence they need to take these people
out of the industry and the RHA will campaign for more effort to be devoted to such action. But customers must understand that compliant haulage has a price and the industry must also do all it can to put its own house in order. If it doesn’t pay, walk away.