Chris Evans

1st October 2021


Road hauliers – the latest convenient scapegoat for the UK’s supply crisis

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The government seems keen to assign a scapegoat for the current supply crisis sweeping Britain. Food shortages are increasing by the week and looming fuel shortages exploded from a potential problem into a full-blown national crisis.

Minister after minister has taken to the airwaves to lay the blame squarely at the feet of the UK’s leading road haulier. Not enough training has been provided. Pay and conditions have been ruinous for retention and attracting talent. Cheap European labour has allowed hauliers to obliterate conditions.

However, the truth is much more nuanced than the government would like us to believe. There was a shortage of drivers before Brexit but the warnings were dismissed as “Project Fear” and the country was taken out of the EU in January 2021. Industry leaders were warning that the end of cabotage would exacerbate supply problems. The toxic culture war waged against EU workers and inevitable Brexit red tape has made the UK far less attractive.

Undoubtedly, there is a crisis in the UK haulage sector that long predates the current malaise. The shortfall in the number of drivers in the UK is estimated at more than 100,000 and the market faces a real challenge to attract talent. Other sectors are equally bereft of workers to fill positions in the post-Brexit economy.

Plimsoll, the market analysts have assessed the UK’s 2000 leading hauliers to assess how well-positioned the market is to emerge from the crisis. The latest Plimsoll Analysis has revealed the following key findings in the market:

  • The average growth of UK hauliers in the latest financial year is just 0.7%
  • Profit margins are declining across the market and now average just 1.7%
  • Sales per employee is a relatively meagre £123,000
  • Only 117 of the top 2000 hauliers are achieving a better than 10% return on assets
  • 500 haulage companies have been rated as Danger in the latest Plimsoll Analysis

The emerging picture is one of a post-Brexit haulage industry ill-equipped to carry the sole responsibility of building a new, skilled workforce. Margins on delivering material and produce around the country are being squeezed to the point of unsustainability for many despite massive demand.

So, what are the medium-term options? If hauliers do simply increase wages as suggested by ministers this week, that cost will have to be passed through the value chain and eventually lead to sharp increases in consumer prices. For example, Plimsoll’s latest examination of one of the UK’s most famous haulage names shows that were they to pay staff an additional £5k per year, increasing the average salary to £40k per annum, the company would make a loss of £26 million. Are consumers prepared to pay more in the current climate?

Plimsoll’s latest analysis shatters the notion that hauliers have long grown fat on the backs of their drivers. The myth that they imported cheap labour and reaped enormous, “fat cat” financial benefits needs to be dismissed.

The latest Plimsoll Analysis is available now and separates those hauliers that are managing to thrive in the current economic and political climate from those falling behind. It will show the companies that have the capacity to pay more and those that are struggling to survive in the inflationary environment.

Whether you are a haulier looking to assess your position and the plight of your rivals or a transport manager keen to understand how stable your distribution providers are, the Plimsoll Analysis has the intelligence you need.

For more information on the Plimsoll analysis for the Road Haulage industry, please click here.

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