Driver Shortage, a Threat to The Recovery Industry

Industry stalwart Richard Goddard would like the work providers and industry stakeholders to confront driver shortage which threatens the future well-being of the recovery industry.

The recovery industry has reached a critical stage in its efforts to stay solvent and maintain its position as Britain’s fourth emergency service!

Our ability to grow and flourish has declined to almost a halt.

For those of us who that have survived the last five years the future should be bright or brighter, so why isn’t it?

Without the massive decrease in fuel prices, many more of an ever-decreasing recovery network would have fallen by the wayside!

In some areas the demand for recovery outweighs the ability to supply it, yet we still soldier on with our heads in the sand and our arses not being covered by the seats of our pants!

The industry and our work providers have been saved by global warming and the fact that we have not endured a severe winter in five years!

The cold truth is the industry could not cope with one, in some instances it can’t cope with sustained very hot or wet weather – God forbid snow!

Why? Simple. The recovery industry no longer has the power to recruit the manpower or woman power to operate our call centres or our vehicles.

It’s not rocket science, yet even supermarket chains are struggling to recruit drivers, the whole freight industry is, but unfortunately we are bottom of the economic freight transport market place,

Where is the next generation of the recovery industry coming from? – And not just drivers.

Our control centres make NASA look like the Fat Controller that operated Thomas the Tank Engine!

The complex nature of passing and controlling the work sent to us by our customers on a minute by minute 24 hour basis has to be seen to be believed.

The stress and tension on any given day is now perpetuating an even greater turn-over of control room staff who are leaving for more lucrative less stressful work outside of our industry! – Like mine sweeping in Syria!!

Now before everyone says the obvious, ‘that I’m talking about rates’, I’m not. We are way past that old elephant in the room! Of course we need more profits to generate more revenues and wages, but the whole industry is out of kilter from what it used to do – to what we are trying to deliver now!

There is a current advert on television now from a national energy company, who is proud of its record of attending 90% of its customers within 24 hours to fix their customer’s boilers!

You too can insure boiler protection starting at £12 per month £144 per year minimum!

A leading motoring organisation sells 24 hour 365 rescue and recovery for your £35k car anywhere in the UK for £20 per annum! With an average response time of 55 minutes!!

Now put your boiler on the M62 in Pontefract at 2am while it’s snowing, what does your £144 per annum get you now? Nothing!

Your £20 gets a trained recovery technician out to your motor car within an hour! Your £20 gets your call answered by a person within a few rings; your £20 gets a fully kitted £50k recovery vehicle, not a £1,500 transit with a bewildered plumber clutching a plunger, who can turn your water off until the rest of his staff wake up and order whatever parts needed within the next three days!

That example is not just about economics, it’s about why we can’t recruit drivers and control room staff, and why 24 hour control rooms are becoming almost extinct in certain areas!

The customer expectation has grown out of all proportion to what can reasonably be delivered, but sometimes we simply can’t keep up.

How many hours of truck time are lost each month sitting outside dealers that are not expecting the delivery, or have no room for it? Sometimes there can be up to five trucks from different companies just waiting outside to speak to the reception!

How much fuel is also lost while the vehicle is idling, never mind service levels affected by lost truck time?

Great Britain is constantly on flood alert during our winters now – what constitutes a safe working practice to recover vehicles from flood waters?

30 years ago the average ETA in London was 45 minutes – now in 2015 it’s called average speed of response, and it’s advertised as 40 minutes!

The Police, Fire and Ambulance Services have admitted that even with blue lights their response times have quadrupled.

I watched an ambulance stuck at a traffic crossing with yellow squares for 11 minutes because no one would move out of its way for fear of getting a ticket for infringing the yellow lines. So with bus lanes, cycle super highways and average speed cameras every 100 yards, how is the recovery industry maintaining customer expectations of within an hour?

Especially with drivers stuck outside dealerships or waiting for customers to arrive at their unattended vehicles, or our vehicles at weigh bridges because the 3.5 ton van on the back of my 7.5 recovery vehicle has a 10 foot overhang and actually weighs 4.5 ton because it’s overloaded with tools and fruit!

We now attend RTAs with fault codes non-starters!

How many operators have had to employ extra office staff to deal with the five-fold increase in phone calls in our control rooms, and to manage customer expectation?

My company, Automania, work for most of the leading motoring organisations, and I am proud of my association with them.

Automania is predominately club-orientated and will always without doubt support the customers that have saved and supported me. So before you start reaching for my pin this is not attack on any of my customers, I will always strive to give a dedicated and professional service.

It’s an observation of the problems everyone knows are out there and no one is dealing with positively!

In Rob Flello and the All Party Parliamentary Group we have the avenue of communication in government and our voice can be heard.

Rob’s input and guidance has been a Godsend to an industry that still believes in miracles, because it’s a miracle this industry has survived.

Rob recently, in good faith, chaired a meeting to try and tackle some of the problems I’ve mentioned, unfortunately, in my humble opinion, it just mirrored five years of talking-shops regurgitating the same problems, because those problems are not being discussed among the work providers collectively!

I would like to see a Summit Meeting of the industry’s main work providers and motoring organisations – without any recovery operators in attendance. The motoring organisations hold the key to many of the issues we are wrestling with. And they directly affect us all – national floods, safe recovery, policy coverage, staff driver recruitment, industry apprenticeships, making the recovery industry vocational, call centre management, policy pricing, and the introduction of the Recovery Standard (the O-Licence compromise), and its effects on recruitment, insurance and the ability of many company’s to continue trading!

The ineffectiveness of the industry’s trade associations and their inability to work productively with our work providers and customers is the common denominator to our industry’s failures and our loss off effective identity in the world of trade and commerce and government!

We have independently driven prices down by competing with each other, culminating in the take-over of so-called high-volume super-agents, who themselves are now finding out that all that glitters is not gold or any other colour for that matter!

Then, when we have problems, we bleat to each other about the very market place we have created, blaming our failures directly on rates.

However in the meantime the war at the top of the industry between our work providers over market share has also driven the prices down to a level that is unsustainable, especially given the expectations of the members investing in the policies!

Without the clubs and motoring organisations there is no recovery industry and some of the industry’s leadership must come from their direction.

For years it’s been said the recovery industry must work together, without realising it’s our customers that should have their own executive committee that meets to stabilise, rationalise and economise in the common areas they all share.

They haven’t got to become buddies. But there is constructive and cohesive common ground they all share, and which affects us all.

They all by-and-large use the same network, even the super-agents, everything effects both sides, drivers hours, training, the O Licence, insurance standards, PAS 43, the road networks, and most importantly now the inability to recruit into our industry.

I believe Rob Flello and Westminster could be the independent platform for our customers to hold an initial meeting just to test the water. A summit of the national motoring organisations!

No screaming operators, no attacks from trade association assassins, no demands for rate increases, just constructive, realistic, cohesive dialogue that could put this industry back on track before we implode, or worse, get a winter that finally exposes the soft underbelly of the recovery industry.

We all work in a competitive marketplace, but every other industry or even sports competitors meet for the benefit of its stakeholders.

The world’s leaders all met recently to agree on climate change. They needed an extra twenty four hours, but they stuck at it and came out the next day with a world-changing agreement. We can’t get a national agreement on legal vehicle weights for our industry!

I attended a meeting of the APPG at Westminster on Wednesday and on the following day a meeting with Transport for London to discuss the industry’s role in London.

What these meetings decide affects club members and operators alike and some input should come from the motoring organisations.

Imagine the use of bus lanes for the recovery industry; imagine an executive committee helping to win that for their members!

The purchase of rescue and recovery cover is the best value money can buy!

And we are an amazing industry if not fickle and worn down by apathy and legislation. But sooner or later our customers will have to try and work together to tackle industry issues.

Together they can make a massive difference to secure best working practice which in the long run has its own benefits in kind to us and their members.

At the risk of repeating myself, this is not a criticism of my customers, but a genuine request that they may consider a Summit amongst themselves.

Published with permission from Professional Recovery magazine

Read Fred Henderson’s follow up here