Phil Flander's Soapbox
I was really saddened when I heard the news about Stanley Duncan's sudden death. I had been talking to him a couple of weeks before about speaking at our conference on 25th June and he was keen to take part. As always, he tried to help wherever he could.
I first met Stanley back in 2000 when the MOT2 system was being rolled out across the DVTA testing sites and he took an interest when the concerns of the freight industry were at their highest and failures for faulty brakes were common place.
He supported our members meetings and conferences and took an active interest in the industry that he was responsible for regulating and enforcing. He was always happy to meet and talk about the issues that affected road freight and his knowledge was extremely good. He was a good man. I miss him and my thoughts are with his family at this sad time.
Most hauliers in Northern Ireland that I have spoken to for the last couple of years or more, regardless of size, would be delighted to have someone interested in taking them over. This is a worrying situation as many of these people have worked hard to build up a business and in many cases it is the third or fourth generation running the business now. Family businesses are becoming a rare breed and it will be a sad day if they all vanish one way or another. It is a sign of the times whilst the economy is struggling and is similar to the situation in GB.
New DfT figures show that the number of British HGVs is nearly 10% lower in 2012 than in 2007, and the lowest since 1999. The effects of the credit crunch saw 2009 register the largest year on year fall in HGV numbers. The DfT says there is evidence of hauliers using fewer, larger HGVs and more large vans, meaning that the drop in HGV numbers may not translate into a reduction in national freight capacity. As there are fewer goods to be carried I can't see too many prepared to have vehicles sitting around doing nothing waiting for an upturn.
We have seen a reduction in the numbers of vehicles specified on O licenses based in Scotland and many hauliers on both sides of the North Channel have told us they have downsized due to the economic climate. Add in those who are no longer operating for whatever reason and it easy to understand the decrease. When truck sales start to climb again month on month that will be as good a sign as any that the economy is recovering.
At the end of April a delegation of RHA members met with Alec Atwood MLA, the Minister of the environment at Stormont. This was arranged to update the Minister on the current state of the haulage industry since our last meeting with him in September 2012. He was left in no doubt that the situation has worsened and it was getting close to being unsustainable. Compliant hauliers were being overlooked as they could not compete on rates due to illegal fuel use and non-compliance with drivers' hours regulations. Mr Atwood showed real concern and he will be contacting colleagues in other departments at Stormont and in the Republic to see what can be done to help. We hope that at long last there will be something done to level the playing field to protect those who are operating legally. It is not just an issue for DVA enforcement to tackle but PSNI and HM Customs and Revenue need to be involved to encourage all operators to stay within the law.
The Irish Road Haulage Association has similar concerns about illegal and laundered fuel. They have stated they would like to see rebated fuel abolished and those who need it can claim back the difference as a rebate. This could well be the way to eradicate the problem and it would certainly assist greatly as there would be no way anyone could get a rebate with no justification.
During that same week an operator had his O License revoked by the Transport Regulation Unit. He had been convicted of fraud and forgery in December last year for interfering with the tachographs. He has also been disqualified from holding a licence for five years and from acting as a Transport Manager.
There are another 15 public inquiries set to take place and two relate to the use of illegal fuel by companies. There are a number of other cases under investigation relating to illegal fuel use.
I, along with many reputable hauliers, hope the message is starting to get through. Otherwise there will be many more investigations in the months to come!