My first involvement with the logistics sector started when I joined the Freight Transport Association in July 1975 as an assistant regional secretary. In those days we were talking about drivers’ logbooks and introducing a new ‘chart style’ version that required drivers to draw nice neat lines showing what they had been doing.
Another piece of legislation that came into force while I was at the FTA were the rules on ‘Admission to the Occupation’. These brought the concepts of good repute, financial standing and professional competence to the industry; with the latter introducing the CPC for transport managers. I was involved in establishing the FTA’s first CPC courses and in fact actually passed the very first exam. Following 12 years at the FTA, I started with the RHA as district manager of the Darlington office in July 1987.
One big feature of the RHA in those days was TipCon, a major event for the tipper industry, which had been held in Harrogate for many years. This eventually became our contribution to the partnership that operates the CV Show, largely as a result of pressure from vehicle manufacturers, who only wanted one show per year. The SMMT and IRTE ran their own shows at the time, and threw their hats in with us. Another key activity was an annual conference, which was always held aboard. The first one that I attended was in Madeira (See photo), and we went to every part of Europe and even subsequently went as far afield as California and Florida – where over 500 people attended. The Conference was made possible by real competition between the vehicle manufacturers, who paid up to £250,000 in sponsorship for a week in the sun with a captive audience!
At that time the RHA was a very different to the organisation than it is today. For a start we had some 18,000 members, with the vast majority of the extra numbers being owner-drivers. We had seven ‘District’ offices scattered round the UK – the result of a previous consolidation.
We negotiated drivers’ wages in many parts of the country, but the RHA provided few of the services we do today. Then commercial activity was mainly related to sales of drivers’ record books (the predecessor to the tachograph), so the vast majority of our income was derived from membership fees.
There were a number of legal aid funding schemes, but they were non-profit making. Over the next few years, the various Districts independently started to introduce revenue-earning schemes. Contracts of employment, training and tachograph analysis were the first proper ventures into the commercial world. These moves were almost always resisted by vested interests within the membership, but slowly they built up a decent clientele.
To my mind, the big change came in August 1994, when the seven districts became four regions and a real momentum behind commercialisation built up. A more structured approach was developed, with moves towards centralising the RHA’s main services, starting with the Haulier’s Shop, followed by RHA Training at Peterborough. The first central member recruitment team was established there in 2000. Also during this period, we saw significant growth in the RHA “Business Partner” concept, which built on the RHA LawPlan model. This centralised legal insurance scheme was developed out of the merger of the various local legal aid schemes.
At the same time that the regions were established, there was a significant change in the governance of the RHA. The Regional Councils were formed and the National Council was abolished.
As chief executive for the last five years, I added to this change. Moving the office of the chief executive, the finance and marketing functions to the commercial hub at Peterborough and selling the headquarters office in Weybridge was the most significant.
This decision was driven by a financial imperative, as were other actions such as the sale of the Bristol office on Cribbs Causeway. But the RHA is now in much better shape than it was at the beginning of 2009.
The last two years have seen steady expansion, enabling us to: invest in the refurbishment of our Peterborough building; buy a new office for the staff in Bristol that will include a training facility; expand our shop activities extensively by the purchase of a warehouse and commit to a new IT System fit for the demands of a modern RHA and 21st Century commercial enterprise.
My one regret is that I did not develop the potential of RHA’s specialist groups. They remain a ‘rough diamond’ and are a tremendous asset. And there is enormous scope for their expansion and as a consequence expansion of the RHA as a whole.
To my mind it is ridiculous that they operate largely in isolation from the rest of the RHA and it is nothing short of scandalous that one of them sits on a six-figure sum of money but does not use it to the members’ benefit. I hope that my successor can address this.
Having said that, the RHA is generally in very good shape and I look forward to seeing how Richard Burnett takes us forward. There is no doubt in my mind that we need a fresh pair of eyes to look at the organisation and to shape our strategy and I wish the Association all the best for the future. I have no doubt that it will go from strength to strength.