Coronavirus: Three quarters of UK truckers fear collapse in 2 months

  • UK truckers are pleading with Boris Johnson's government to provide more financial support.
  • 75% expect to go out of business within two months due to the coronavirus, a new survey found.
  • Over half of the respondents said they expected their business to collapse within a month. 
  • Lorry drivers moving goods other than food and PPE are particularly at risk, with demand for goods like clothing having plummeted since the outbreak of the pandemic in the UK.
  • Opposition parties have called on ministers to give the haulage industry the support it needs to survive.
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UK truckers are warning Boris Johnson's government that they could go out of business in weeks without more financial support for dealing with the impact of the coronavirus on their industry. The truckers are playing a vital role in transporting essentials like food and PPE around Britain during the coronavirus pandemic, but their futures still look bleak. Three-quarters say they don't expect their jobs to survive beyond two months, a stark new survey, conducted in the latter part of April and published this weekend, has found.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA), the trade body representing the trucking industry in the UK,  asked its members a series of questions about how the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus had affected their trade. When asked by the RHA how long they expect their livelihoods to survive at current volume, 75% said two months or less, while 52% said no more than a month.

13% said they expected to go out of business within two weeks. Richard Burnett, the RHA's Chief Executive, this week, wrote to the government asking for five emergency measures to help the truckers whose cashflow has been torpedoed by the outbreak of the virus and subsequent nationwide lockdown.

They included a temporary suspension of business rates and fuel tax, plus a retention scheme to cover the cost of trucks not in action. Industry figures have warned the UK government that most haulage operations in the UK are small-to-medium sized companies that will struggle to survive for much longer if their cashflow problems continue. Many already have small profit margins and are reluctant to apply for government loans, as they don't want to take on more debt.

The pain being inflicted on the industry is particularly acute for truckers moving loads, which aren't food and PPE. Demand for other goods like clothing has plummeted amid the COVID-19 outbreak, while the UK government's strict social distancing measures have forced shops, restaurants, and factories across the country to close. "If the economy is to recover from this, it is important that we can switch on the supply chain as individual sectors begin their recovery," Burnett said this week.

"No-one knows for sure when that will be, but we must make sure that the industry is up and ready to go at very short notice. We recognize that we need to play the fullest role possible in the UK's recovery and these measures would ensure we can do just that." The RHA findings published this weekend illustrate the scale of the challenge facing the trucking sector.

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73% of respondents said their cash flow had significantly reduced or worsened, with 13% saying they have no cash flow whatsoever.

56% have applied to the UK government's furlough scheme to cover the wages of out-of-work staff. A figure in the logistics industry, who wished not to be named, told Business Insider: "The situation is dire. "Ports are suffering, hauliers in non-food or PPE segments are really struggling and facing collapse really struggling, and even those carrying food are facing increasingly tough competition."

Rishi Sunak UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak.Danny Lawson/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

A UK government spokesperson told Business Insider:"Hauliers are vital to the nation's battle against Covid-19, and to help support the sector we have made changes to road transport operator licensing, vehicle testing, driver medical renewals, driver training and drivers hours.

"We continue to work with the sector and encourage all firms to make use of the unprecedented package of measures announced by the Chancellor, including GBP330bn of government backed loans, cash grants and support with tax bills, to help businesses through this difficult time. However, opposition parties said ministers needed to give industry more support. Responding to the RHA findings, Labour's Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon said: "Our lorry drivers are essential workers who are keeping the supermarket shelves stocked and delivering other vital supplies.

"Much of this is imported but there are fewer goods going in the opposite direction, putting a big strain on the viability of road hauliers. "There are real concerns that the furlough scheme needs to have greater flexibility in sectors like road transport. The government should listen to industry and the trade unions and give them the support that employers and workers need to survive the crisis."

Bill Esterson, Labour MP and shadow trade minister, said: "We have to keep this essential industry going to maintain our food supply and viable for us to restart international trade when we eventually emerge from the crisis." Sarah Olney, the Liberal Democrat Transport and International Trade spokesperson, told Business Insider "the Government must do whatever is necessary to support haulage companies. "This is about protecting vital supply lines for food and medicine as the coronavirus crisis continues."

She added: "Liberal Democrats are also calling on Ministers to listen to business and find an urgent fix to the business loans scheme, so that small businesses can access the finance they need.

Otherwise, people's livelihoods are at risk."

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