Green Flag Today: RAC Tomorrow

Sometime I think I must be alone in this world whenever I pick up a newspaper or look at the television news. Not only is it apparent to anybody with half a brain or even just a quarter, that the world, apart from becoming an awful place, is riddled with a greater than ever degree of straightforward deception and dishonesty. It has now got to the point where it is not possible to get an honest sensible answer. Like many people I suspect that “saving the Euro” is all about “saving the gravy train of so many people that are involved with its existence.

Why would its collapse be so disastrous when we used to manage all right with the German mark, the French franc, the Spanish peseta and so forth. Since the Royal Bank of Scotland would appear well and truly in this sort of mix, it should come as no surprise to us what has happened to the Green Flag contract. I feel so sorry for all of the operators, many that have given a lifetime’s work to Green Flag and National Breakdown before them.

But I do feel dreadfully sorry for the people at the heart of the old-fashioned Green Flag as we know it: people who have always worked in Bradford. They must be devastated to have to do what has been done. At least the contractors that have lost their contract are out of it, whereas these Green Flag workers will have to continue with a very heavy heart, or not have a job.

Running a Breakdown Service requires a flexible approach, a caring attitude and a vocational commitment. The old National Breakdown running on into the current Green Flag to a large extent had all these in abundance. Royal Bank of Scotland have none whatsoever.

I think they probably struggle to fit into our world, but having said that, the world has changed and people like myself have to recognise that we all do need to adjust. When National Breakdown started 20-odd years ago it called on the services of around (I think) 1500 cottage industry recovery operators, and that was at a time when everybody cared and everyone gave their all. But like many other industries these types of businesses have had their day. Look no further than all the High Streets where shops are boarded up and Tesco flourishing 200 yards away. There are, in fact, plenty of other examples, so to harp on and look back is alright but only for nostalgic purposes. We are now in a world where the customer/member and the recovery operator are just pawns in a game of finance. The mystery to me is why these banks and insurance companies bother with breakdown work.

I know it is a loss leader in sales add-on but it is just one of about 10 add-ons that a bank or insurance company will use to lure in a customer and it is probably the hardest to service.

Hardly anyone now buys breakdown cover so there is no real income. It then has to be provided, which costs money. No wonder we are all in a state. But having said all this we must recognise that the business model that Green Flag are creating could just actually work for them. I doubt if it is going to make the contractors a lot of money because that is never allowed when working as a supplier to large concerns, e.g. Tesco. But these super operators, if they have the skills to provide some sort of service, will undoubtedly take a lot of the strain from Green Flag and they will get the large liveried fleet that they always wanted and if this then works for Green Flag is it not inconceivable that the RAC could look at a similar set up.

It doesn’t require too much imagination to see a few big ambitious companies each owning and running a couple of hundred RAC vans which would pay-on-use; no jobs, no expense to the RAC.

Undoubtedly the RAC member would not get the same level of service because commercial costing would come into the equation, but then I have to remind myself service to members is not the foremost part of the plan because they have not paid for their membership by and large: it has been given free.

The big difference of course is if the RAC go down the same route as the Royal Bank of Scotland. It would be putting more money into the industry and not taking it out, although how many people we would finish up with as recovery operators on whatever scale is anybody’s guess. Then there is the further Domesday scenario. While Green Flag have selected these few super operators and the system works, which I actually do not doubt it will, what is to stop a major company bidding for the whole contract. While I don’t have a player in mind, it could be any large logistics operator because you no longer need any depth of breakdown knowledge to run a breakdown service: because you no longer need depots, just hundreds of remote operatives possibly, dare I say it, controlled from India.

Finally, in case anyone doesn’t realise, we still have a Green Flag contract with a small area like about a hundred others, but all this means (I think) is that we will now have three years’ notice before we are also gone. At least I have to be thankful that it is possibly three years where most operators had less than three minutes, the time it took to open their mail.

Fred Henderson,
Breakdown Doctor.
December, 2011