Lawyer advises hauliers to help where it's needed

A specialist transport lawyer has urged hauliers to switch strategy if their work isn’t essential to the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak. Tim Culpin, transport partner at law firm Aaron and Partners, advises operators with spare capacity to offer their services to the sectors that needed it most, including supermarkets and pharmaceuticals. Transport workers are among those on a government list of people deemed critical to the COVID-19 response.

However, Culpin said haulage clients working in multiple sectors had contacted him for advice on where they should focus their businesses to best tackle the pandemic. “I had a call from a client this morning who asked if I could definitively tell him what essential work means - what can I do and what can't I do?” Culpin told us.

“Part of his work is retail, part is pharmaceuticals and part of it is delivering for a commercial manufacturer. There is no specific guidance if you’re working for a commercial manufacturer. Everyone is going to have to make their own minds up. But the test appears to be if the work is essential to keep vital things going or help prevent the spread then it’s OK. But I don't think delivering commercial products is necessarily appropriate.

"My advice would be if you can free up capacity by not carrying products that aren’t essential then offer your services to companies that might be under huge pressure. The supermarkets, for example, must be under huge pressure.”

Culpin went on to predict that only essential items would end up being transported and it was therefore a good time for operators to review their businesses. “With all the retail outlets shutting pretty quickly there won’t be a requirement for the stuff; only the essentials will be getting moved,” he said.

“The market will probably dictate what does and doesn’t get carried. As all retail outlets are deemed non-essential the delivery of their stocks is likely to dwindle. Even Sports Direct have closed and are now seeking clarification from the government as to whether the sale of fitness equipment is essential. This should free up further transport resources to assist in the delivery of food and other essential commodities.

"The housing minister has said the building industry can continue if people can work 2m apart - but realistically you can’t so you need to think about shutting your business down.

"Hauliers, under present guidance, have to ask themselves if the work they're doing and the goods they're carrying are essential,” Culpin continued. “And they have to keep applying the tests the government is issuing to make that determination.

“If that means they have capacity, then they should look to offer that capacity to the sectors that are perhaps struggling and could do with that extra capacity. I had another client who’s directly involved in the food chain who says it's gone nuts. He's had a small drop-off where one of the chains he supplies to has closed, but everything else is going crazy.”

Asked how long it might take for the current situation to come back to anything like normality, Culpin admitted he “shuddered to think”. We'll be locked down for three months. If we appear to have gone past the peak the government might ease up a bit but if we haven’t then there's no chance at all.

COVID-19: FTA requests extension to transition period for leaving EU and suspension of clean air zones and Direct Vision Standard

The FTA has requested an extension to the current transition period for leaving the EU in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

It has also asked ministers to consider suspending the implementation of other legislation which will affect logistics operators in the short term.

This includes the expansion of the London-wide Low Emission Zone for HGVs and the London Direct Vision Standard, due to take effect from October this year, as well as the start of other clean air zones in areas including Birmingham and Leeds.

The UK is due to leave the EU at the end of 2020 with new rules on trade, travel and business taking effect on 1 January 2021.

However, the FTA claimed the challenges posed by the virus will make the effective implementation of any new legislation impossible in the short term.

“This is not about the relative merits of Brexit, or any trading arrangements which our industry will need to adopt,” explained Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at the FTA. “This is purely and simply so the businesses tasked with keeping the UK’s supply chain intact can concentrate on the serious issues which the COVID-19 pandemic is placing on the industry.

“Logistics is facing unprecedented challenges, both in terms of keeping the UK economy supplied with all the goods it needs to function, as well as coping with the increased disruption to staffing levels caused by sickness and self-isolation and concerns about the viability of their businesses.

"Our first priority is always to deliver for our customers, and there is simply not enough capacity available to plan the major structural changes needed to implement a successful departure from the EU, as well as myriad other planned legislation changes on the horizon, as well as dealing with unprecedented pressures caused by COVID-19."

Referring to the FTA's request to consider suspending other legislation including clean air zones and the Direct Vision Standard, de Jong said: “All this new legislation, and new trading arrangements, need careful planning and implementation in normal circumstances. But it is clear they would bring major change to our sector at a time when we are fully committed to overcoming the challenges which COVID-19 presents.

“In addition to the administrative, practical and financial difficulties experienced by our sector, the pandemic will undoubtedly have a significant impact on supplies of new equipment, technology and vehicles in the coming months, as well as the industry’s ability to recruit and train new staff. Add in the challenge of adapting to new trading arrangements with the EU – which are yet to be formalised – and the situation is placing logistics under huge and unnecessary pressures.

“Logistics is a flexible industry, but such significant change cannot happen overnight, and there is simply not the capacity for planning and delivery of new legislation at present within the system. COVID-19 has created a once-in-a-lifetime emergency situation which needs the full attention of the whole sector – adding in a host of new legislation would place untold, unnecessary pressure on a supply chain that is already stretched. Our industry needs the support of government, not to be broken by it.”