(last updated August 2020)
What has been happening in the haulage sector
The haulage industry is affected by the health of the economy as a whole and until the economic downturn that began in the late 2000s there was healthy demand for haulage services. Between 2009 and 2013 the poor state of the economy meant that hauliers suffered from much lower levels of demand.
Although the economy began to recover in 2014 the sector remains intensely competitive. Because traditionally it has been quite easy to set up as a haulier there is fierce undercutting on rates and customers have become used to setting low rates for a job as a result.
High fuel duty and VED increases squeezed margins even further and many businesses have not been able to survive. Competition also comes from continental hauliers who have much lower operating costs.
Although fuel prices fell during 2014 and 2015 fuel still accounts for over one-third of a haulage firm's operating costs - and many businesses can't increase their haulage rates when fuel prices go up.
As a result of low wages and long hours many drivers have left the industry which is currently suffering from skills shortages. This is likely to get worse as existing drivers come up to retirement age. Many haulage firms are hiring foreign drivers or trying to attract female drivers to help overcome this. As part of raising standards in the industry from September 2014 all drivers have been required to complete compulsory training and to hold the Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC). The Driver Qualification Card (DQC) is issued to drivers when they pass the CPC initial qualification. This is proof of your Driver CPC and you must carry it at all times when you're driving professionally.
Many haulage businesses have introduced other services for their customers such as warehousing and distribution. Others have moved into specialist 'niche' areas where higher rates can be charged.
Other pressures on the haulage industry include increasing regulation reducing carbon emissions traffic delays due to congestion and 'lorry bans' imposed by many cities. Hauliers now also have to pay a road user charge - this applies to UK and foreign vehicles alike but UK-registered vehicles get a reduction in VED to compensate them. The charge is aimed at making things fairer for UK hauliers but many in the industry think that the charge for foreign vehicles is too low to reduce competition.
Keeping up to date with developments in the haulage sector
Joining a trade association is a good way of keeping up with developments in your industry. Trade journals are an excellent source of information too.
The haulage industry is represented by the Freight Transport Association (FTA) and the Road Haulage Association (RHA) both of which provide a range of useful services to members throughout the UK as well as producing a number of publications. The RHA Road Haulage Manual includes a comprehensive overview of the regulations that haulage businesses must comply with. You can also read Roadway journal on the RHA website. Members can use the RHA Operating Cost Tables to help set realistic rates. You can contact the RHA at Roadway House Bretton Way Bretton Peterborough PE3 8DD - or visit their website for more information.