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First Trucking Britain Out Of Recession results revealed

  • 01 October 2009
  • By Justin Stanton

The first results of the Trucking Britain Out Of Recession business barometer are in and they are more positive than might have been expected.

Overall, the data reveals an industry that is suffering (make no mistake), but, nevertheless, it is an industry that is not going to take it lying down and is doing all it can to fight back. The passion evident in the responses is proof of that .

If you read last week’s news story (‘Trucking Britain Out Of Recession – the first results’, CM 24 September), you’ll know that 28% of the 300 or so respondents said their firms have started to recover. Another 45% expect to recover within the next 12 months.

Here, though, we’re going to drill down further into the data and highlight the trends.

Recent performance

The bald statistics show that revenue improved in the last quarter, compared with the same quarter a year ago for 26% of respondents, while volumes improved for 27%.

However, the data highlights that 60% suffered a decrease in both revenue and volumes.

While 29% have seen an increase in their customer base since the start of the year, 36% have seen a decrease.

Not surprisingly, those serving the construction industry have been hit especially hard – just 21% have seen an increase in revenue, while 19% enjoyed a boost in volumes; but, 54% have suffered a drop in revenue, while 69% have endured a fall in volumes.

In contrast, those operators in retail/wholesale/distribution have had a better experience: 31% enjoyed revenue growth, and 29% were boosted by volume growth.

Reaction to the recession

The extent of the impact of the recession cannot be glossed over, though. The survey reveals the actions taken by operators as a result of the recession:

  • 47% froze basic pay
  • 46% reduced headcount of permanent employees
  • 29% reduced headcount of agency staff
  • 18% reduced salaries
  • 15% reduced basic hours

Breaking down that data shows some variances. For example: 58% of logistics and contract distribution firms froze basic pay, compared with the 47% total for the entire survey; 24% of hire or reward hauliers reduced wages, compared with the 18% total; and 58% of operators in the construction industry reduced the headcount of permanent staff, compared with the 46% total.

Vehicle acquisition, as has been clearly highlighted by the SMMT’s monthly registration figures for the past 12 months, has been low on the agenda for many operators. Fully 47% of the respondents to the survey have not acquired new vehicles in the past 12 months, while 62% have not acquired any used vehicles.

Just 37% of own-account operators didn’t acquire any new vehicles, while the figure for hire or reward hauliers was 59%.

Cutting the cake another way, 63% of small fleets (one to 10 trucks) didn’t acquire new vehicles, while just 31% of ‘larger’ fleets (11 trucks or more) failed to take on new vehicles.

It’s not all bad news: 55% of respondents expect to acquire vehicles (new or used) in the next 12 months. The thirst for refleeting is greatest among those working for the service industry, with 65% expecting to acquire vehicles in the next year. Not surprisingly, larger fleets expect to be more truck-hungry in the coming 12 months: 66% compared with 41% among the smaller fleets.


Asking operators to consider their futures proved heartening. A total of 64% were optimistic about the next three months, while the next year looks more rosy for 75% of respondents.

Delving deeper down highlights some differences of opinion: 75% of logistics and contract distribution firms are optimistic about the next three months, but just 50% of hire or reward hauliers felt the same.

That divergence is once again apparent when comparing smaller and larger fleets: 54% for the former and 73% for the latter.

The dichotomy of size is also present when comparing operators’ opinions about when they’ll recover from the recession: 21% of smaller fleets said they’ve started to recover, while for larger fleets, the figure was greater at 35%.

That pattern continues to repeat itself, with just 3% of larger fleets expressing concern about not surviving, while that fear is evident among 13% of smaller fleets.

Furthermore, 62% of larger fleets expect to emerge with an increased market share, while 32% of smaller fleets expect to gain.

Tired? Stressed? Over-worked?

Here’s a crumb of comfort – if you’re feeling stressed and working longer hours, you’re not the only one.

A total of 37% of respondents said their working hours had either significantly or slightly increased, while just 23% have enjoyed a fall in hours at the coalface.

Operators in retail/wholesale/distribution are having their assets ‘sweated’ the hardest: 42% reported an increase in hours, while just 21% reported a decrease.

While the percentage of smaller fleets and larger fleets reporting a rise in hours is similar (35% compared with 38%), 31% of smaller fleets recorded a drop in hours, compared with just 15% of larger fleets.

Your thoughts

We asked: what can Commercial Motor, Motor Transport, Truck Driver and do to support your business? Among the wilder responses, we were tickled by a call to “assassinate the stupid prime minister”, and the suggestion that all MPs should be sacked and replaced by the CBI. Setting these flights of fancy aside, it’s clear the government is seen as ‘the enemy’, whether it be because of the ‘greenwash’ that is the fuel duty escalator or the red tape “strangling the industry”.

A handful – and we won’t kid you, we do mean a handful – exhorted us to accentuate the positive: “highlight positive growth,” suggested one; and “highlight cost-saving initiatives,” said another.

One respondent called for a campaign to promote prompt payment, while another told us to “insist operators stop cutting each other’s throats to win business”.

4PLs, 3PLs and the larger fleet operators were seen as an enemy by some: “Name and shame firms, usually the bigger ones, that keep the rates artificially low. This helps no one as we are just busy fools.”

Another operator went further, calling for a register of failed companies and their directors, “so that these people will be alienated from the industry that they have helped to push into recession”.

There were more than a dozen requests to help improve the industry’s image. “We need young people to come into the industry. It needs to be recognised as an important part of the future of this country,” pleaded one respondent.

We see all of these as part and parcel of our jobs – and you have our word that we will continue to strive our hardest to support the industry as best we can.


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