From Bryan Adams on Tour to furlough at home!

Ross Hemsworth, owner driver at Stagefreight (South) Exeter, asks how can hauliers help each other in the Covid-19 ‘crisis’? There is little doubt about the devastating effects that Covid19 has had on the road haulage industry, from driver redundancies and mothballed trucks, to furloughed staff with uncertain futures, even a lack of provision of basic services on the road for those still working. However, one area in particular, is going to be hit much harder than most.

When ‘lockdown’ is over, social distancing is likely to continue in some shape or form, for most of this year and possibly even into 2021, so the live events sector is facing challenges unlike anything it has seen before. Companies whose main area of income stems from music touring, theatrical tours, corporate events and festivals, are all facing a very long term battle, some just to keep their companies afloat and others as to how they keep their trucks and staff rolling in the interim period. Many very experienced and valuable drivers uncertain of their futures, are now starting to ‘shop around’ for work and companies face losing some of their best staff as a result.

At this time of the year, you would normally find drivers like me, backstage at a big music gig somewhere in the UK or Europe, or preparing for a load-out at a theatre somewhere, this year is indeed, very different. Many will familiar with names such as, Stagefreight, EST (now part of Transam Trucking), Brian Yeardley, Stagetruck, FlyByNite, McGuiness Transport, Jamiesons and others and what they do, and whilst some of these have managed to keep a skeleton fleet running with RDC and container work, the question is, for how much longer? We are already hearing of large general haulage companies slashing their own rates to get this work leaving the smaller companies unable to compete.

In a 2015 report by Eventbrite, the UK events industry was worth ?42.3 bn and supported nearly 600,000 jobs. It has grown significantly since that period, as has the road haulage requirements to support it. In corporate events alone Globally, there are approximately 32,000 exhibitions each year, featuring 4.5 million exhibiting companies and attracting over 303 million visitors.

The greatest majority of these events use events specialist hauliers. With theatres and venues closed across the UK and much of Europe for the foreseeable future, many companies have accepted the fact, that it is unlikely that they will be seeing any of their normal loads or clients, returning this year. I currently run my own limited company, but my main contract is to run and drive for the South West depot of Stagefreight UK, and although I have in the past, worked for numerous events hauliers within this sector of the industry, the current period is certainly proving to be a very challenging time for me personally.

Like many self-employed drivers, or those with their own limited companies, we are all feeling the pinch of the so-called “gig economy”. Stagefreight Ltd Managing Director Ian Uttley said: “As a Company we employ our drivers full time, we are incredibly proud of them all, as we didn’t want to lose any of them, furlough was and is a saviour for them and us.

We have budgeted extensively to cover any eventuality and are in a strong position to be ready to move at a moment’s notice. Our insurance broker and financiers have been incredibly flexible and we thank them for this.” Many HGV drivers and crews within in the events industry however, work on zero-hours contracts, so when there is no work, there is no income and many will struggle with just keeping food on their families tables and a roof over their heads, if they don’t find other work quickly.

This in itself, then poses a major problem for the owners, as to how they keep their valuable staff. Tour drivers are in general, a nomadic bunch, who are known to move around from company to company, to drive on their preferred tours and at the best daily rates available. However, in my personal experience, the very best of these drivers, have been with their chosen companies for decades.

Imagine how many of these feel right now. if they have no choice but to go elsewhere. The government are constantly receiving calls to assist companies in trouble, from airlines and shipping to food distributors and medical suppliers, but the Arts in general, seem to be getting very little support. We are hearing of theatres going into administration and even large historical venues such as the Royal Albert Hall telling us that they are ‘close to the edge’ financially.

There is no simple one-stop-shop solution ahead, that much is for certain. Theatres and venues cannot reopen until social distancing rules are relaxed and therefore, Tour Managers, Touring Theatrical Directors, Event Planners and festival organisers have all but admitted, nothing much is going to happen before the Spring of 2021. That’s a lot of time for wheels not to be rolling!

So what are the short term solutions for events logistics? Well, on the positive side, this sector provides mostly new or nearly new Euro 6 vehicles, a wide range of urban and full size box trailers, smaller vehicles and friendly helpful drivers not afraid to ‘get stuck in’ to loading and unloading heavy flight cases etc. These fleets are based all over the country.

Ours for example, are in Leeds, Birmingham, Exeter and Marden. Many have already been undertaking work for supermarket and medical supply chains but could be doing so much more. Their drivers and planners have perhaps, the greatest knowledge in the industry of West and Eastern European truck movement and drivers who know what it is like to be away for weeks at a time.

So in the true spirit of the road haulage industry, the short term answer is, we can all help each other to survive 2020.

So maybe, at least in the shorter term, some of the larger general haulage operators, could consider the events logistics companies when using sub-contractors and whilst getting excellent drivers, good quality fleets and immense road knowledge, they are also helping others in their own industry, who may need a hand right now.

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