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  • 26 December 2012
  • By Christopher Walton

A Year in Review: Commercial Motor

2012 – what a year. Well, it was a mixed one for haulage and transport. Here are just a few highlights.

January saw the traditional swathe of administrations hit in the first three months….  In Scotland Macaskill Haulage entered compulsory liquidation; Palletways snaped up the assets of long-term member Oxford Logistics (Milton); Clearway Distribution in Nottingham was sold to its management team and became B2B Logistics.

But that wasn’t all: the first seeds of the four month threat of tanker driver strike action were planted. And there nary a let up in compliance failures for new traffic commissioners Nick Denton and Kevin Rooney to get their teeth into.

In February seven members of the United Road Transport Union were arrested in relation to a Driver CPC fraud investigation. It would take until December Greater Manchester Police (GMP) to confirm no further action would be taken.
Bad news from Northern Ireland in February too, when one of its best-known hauliers shut the doors. Noel Zwecker International of Co Armagh blamed soaring operating costs as so many would do…

In March Hull-based container haulier AR Lunn Transport Warehousing folded after 30 years of trading. Citing the same issues that Noel Zwecker had done just weeks before. March wasn’t quite in like a lion, out like a lamb, it had a bite in the tail with Unite the union members at five different fuel-delivering firms backing strike action. A saga that would bring haulage into the national spotlight.

A sad month in April as two of the biggest characters in the haulage community died: Stan Robinson and Brian Harris. Tributes poured in for two men who worked tirelessly to improve the industry. Robinson was described as “like a father” to everyone at the haulier that bares his name, while Harris – famed for Brian Harris Transport’s Devon to Scotland service – was labelled a “true gentleman” of the industry.

In the same month Vosa promised an overhaul of its OCRS system would be ready by 30 April. It would not go live until 1 October after a protracted series of technical problems. A worrying pointer for the industry came out in April too as statistics from the DSA revealed a dramatic fall in the number of people taking and passing their C and C+E tests…

This would be followed up in May, when a report from Skills for Logistics – entitled “A Looming Driving Shortage?” said the shortage of professional drivers alongside the shortfall in Driver CPC training hours threatened economic recovery in the UK.
In happier news, the long-running dispute between Unite the union and fuel distribution firms ended with tanker drivers voting to accept proposals that followed eight solid days of talks. The industry, MPs and consumers alike breathed a sigh of relief.

In June one of the worst kept secrets in transport was revealed when Beverley Bell became senior traffic commissioner. She set about the role with gusto and promised effective, modern and fairer TC’s. Another haulier hit the wall, this time McKay’s Transport of Montrose closed its doors after 43 years of trading while Stobart shocked industry watchers making a £12.4m offer for car transporter business Autologic.

July gave us the quote of the year. Road Haulage Association chief executive Geoff Dunning said of Vosa’s botched delays over the implementation of changes to the OCRS: “My old boss used to say if there’s a choice between conspiracy and cock-up, it’s usually a cock-up.” We can’t remember Roger King ever saying that to us Geoff!

August meant the Olympics, and after all the fannying around with road closures and seeing James Bond meet the Queen, the highlight of the closing ceremony was a guest appearance by Transam Trucking and a dozen Daf XF 105s. An average of 23.3 million viewers saw the trucks circle around the Olympic stadium. It was like Super Saturday. But for truck spotters. On a Sunday.

The big story in September was Volvo’s viral video. Take two new FH’s; one empty Croatian motorway; a tightrope; an impending bridge and one crazy lady and you have yourself a hit. A six and a half million viewers on YouTube hit. Volvo said the new truck redefined what a premium truck could offer. We said “the new FH is a real driver’s machine” and that “Volvo had listened to all the criticisms of the old model… and nailed them”.

Not to be undone, Daf launched the new XF in Hannover. There were no stunts, just major changes under the reconfigured bodywork.

In October the Department for Transport confirmed the HGV Road User Levy would begin in April 2014. The vast majority of hauliers in the UK will see the charge offset with corresponding reductions in VED, while foreign registered hauliers will have to pay £10 a day with a ceiling of £1,000 a year. As ever, the devil is in the detail, and details are sparse at this stage of debating the bill – but the RHA welcomed the scheme getting the go ahead a year early.

Annoyingly, the winner of an eBay auction for the first Volvo FH to come off the production line was a French haulier.

November saw Transport for London admit, after a CM investigation, that it had issued just 1,485 fines to vehicles breaching the Low Emission Zone in 2012. It admitted to a light touch approach to the zone, which requires a Euro-4 minimum, instead looking to “encourage operators to take appropriate action”.

The industry also suffered a bitter blow as the largest provider of asset finance to UK operators – ING Asset – pulled out of the market. Several financial firms said they would up the amount of finance they would make to the market to make up for the shortfall.

In December Steve Prince Transport entered administration after it spent most of the year struggling to meet the obligations of a company voluntary arrangement (CVA). Its assets were sold out of administration to Specialised Pallet Transport, the director of which is Steve Prince Transport general manager Ron Prince.

Finally, the year finished with the chancellor scrapping two fuel duty rises promised for 2013. Hopefully this bodes well for next year!


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