Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

In International Truck Stop, Scania, October 202115 MinutesBy Will ShiersNovember 20, 2021

British hauliers have to deal with an everincreasing amount of hassle – not that it bothers the fatherand- son team running Campeys of Selby.

Brits are renowned for complaining, and not just about the weather.

In a quarter of a century of interviewing hauliers, I’ve never encountered one who hasn’t enjoyed having a good moan. In fact, to ensure I have plenty to write about, I always drop at least one or two trigger words into an interview. Subjects such as haulage rates, Brexit and parking are always guaranteed to get them riled and generate some suitably angry and passionate responses, giving me plenty of material to work with.

Earlier in the year, I put my fool-proof plan into practice while interviewing Paul and Harry Campey, the father-and-son team who run general haulier Campeys of Selby in the north of England.

Last year, Transport for London (TfL) introduced the Direct Vision Standard (DVS), which awards a visibilitybased star rating to all trucks over 12 tonnes, dishing out fines to those that fail to comply. To say it’s been unpopular with hauliers would be an understatement, and knowing that two-thirds of the company’s 78-strong fleet venture into the capital regularly, it seemed like a good place to start.

“So what do you reckon to the DVS then?” I asked, lighting the touchpaper.

“I think it’s a good thing,” replied Harry. “If it saves one person’s life in London, then it’s worth it. Yes, you do have to spend thousands of pounds putting cameras on a truck, but what is someone’s life worth?”

Good kit attracts good drivers.” It’s all Scanias and one DAF in the Campeys fleet.

Undoubtedly, that’s a great attitude to have, but it’s not the reaction I was after. I mean, how can I write a good story without some anti- DVS sentiment? I needed to quickly move on to something that was bound to get them het up. It was time to use the ‘F-word’!

The Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme – or FORS for short – is a voluntary accreditation scheme for British fleet operators, aiming to prove that hauliers are demonstrating best practice in terms of safety, efficiency, and environmental protection. I say ‘voluntary’, but it’s often a case that you don’t get the work if you don’t have it. Campeys of Selby is FORS-accredited, but surely the haulier considers the scheme to be little more than an expensive box-ticking exercise. Right? Wrong.

“FORS has really brought us up as a business and put us in a better place than we would have been in,” declared an enthusiastic Harry. “Because of FORS, we do a lot of things that we wouldn’t have done. It has really made us think differently, encouraged us to introduce new policies, and given us a benchmark.”

He added that because the trucks already had the FORSapproved safety equipment fitted (forward-facing and side cameras, side scan, left-turn warnings, etc), it meant the company didn’t face a hefty bill when it came to DVS approval.

Roughly 20% of Campeys’ trucks are used for carrying glass around Britain and Ireland for a handful of customers, while the rest are employed on general haulage and pallet work. The general haulage side of the business has grown extraordinarily over the past few years and shows no signs of abating. It spreads its net wide, ensuring that no single customer commands more than 25% of its work. Having such a diverse selection of customers certainly paid dividends in 2020, as I discovered when I dropped the ‘C-bomb’ and asked how they fared during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s hard to get a good operator down.

“We came into the office on that first Monday morning, and the phones didn’t ring,” said Paul, referring to the start of the first British lockdown in March 2020. “We looked at all of the trucks in the yard, and we thought, ‘what are we going to do about this?’ So, Harry and I sat here with a piece of paper and said, ‘What can we get rid of, what can we change, what don’t we need, what have we done purely because we have always done it like that, and how can we save costs without losing any staff?’ We changed a lot of things, and we came out a lot stronger and better.”

Luckily, Campeys of Selby has contracts with food and food packaging manufacturers, so even in the first three weeks of lockdown, it only had to park up 20 trucks. “Then, as soon as restrictions started to lift, the construction industry went ballistic, and we were incredibly busy,” remembered Harry. “We didn’t have enough trucks, so got subcontractors in, who had trucks stood down due to the pandemic. We have been really busy ever since.”

While both men acknowledge that Covid-19 has been tough for many, it has brought only benefits for their business. “We cut our cloth accordingly and came out stronger and with different ways of working,” said Paul. “And I bet a lot of other companies are far leaner now too.”

Harry went one step further, saying he believed that the pandemic’s lasting legacy would be positive for the industry. “Covid has given everyone a shake-up,” he declared. “The whole industry is changing as a result, and I don’t think people realise how quickly it’s changing.

“There are less cars on the road and fewer foreign trucks. I think when we come out of this, there will be an even bigger deficit of trucks. It’s time we [British hauliers] started working together, working smarter and embracing new technology. There will be a split now between forward-thinking operators and those stuck in their ways, who look back at how it used to be. It is going to split the industry.”

Doing it better: father-and-son duo Paul and Harry (left) Campey.

Having failed to generate any negativity with Covid- 19, I gingerly moved onto rates, renowned for being notoriously low with margins of 1% to 2% common. Surely I’d be able to eke something negative from the pair on this subject?

“Actually, prices are currently being driven up,” announced Paul, wiping the smile off my face. “There’s good money in general haulage, as long as you do it right.”

By ‘do it right’ he meant offering a quality service, something the haulier prides itself on. “When we say we’ll be there, we’ll be there, even if that means one of us jumping into a truck ourselves,” added Harry, who like his father, has an HGV licence.

“You need to be strong enough to say ‘sorry, it’s not profitable at that rate’ and turn work down. And, when they come back, which they invariably do, make sure the price is right,” he explained.

Harry said the days of rate-cutting are disappearing and believes this is being accelerated by the welcome arrival of Low Emission Zones (LEZs) in various British cities, which financially penalise the most polluting trucks. As he continued, I discreetly crossed ‘LEZs’ off my rapidly shrinking list.

                                                  The company’s got nothing against the mandating of Euro-6 gear.

“I hear hauliers complaining that they won’t be able to take their Euro-3 trucks into some cities soon,” he said. “Well, good! Change your trucks and buy Euro-6. Think about the environment, the pollution, the climate change. The problem is, these are the same companies that have been undercutting with an old wagon. Now they can’t afford to put their rates up, so they go out of business, and the work goes to companies like ours that can invest. This, in turn, drive rates up and increases drivers’ wages.”

I was fast realising that as well as being incredibly enthusiastic and passionate about the industry, Harry has an old head on young shoulders. This was reconfirmed when I brought up the subject of Driver CPC (the periodic training all British truck drivers have to endure), suggesting that it’s a pointless waste of time and money. My pen was poised, ready to capture the negative comments but, again, I was disappointed.

“Everyone can benefit from training,” he insisted. “Forklift drivers go for refresher training; teachers go for refresher training. In fact, everybody in different sectors goes for refresher training, so why should truck drivers be different?”

Unlike some hauliers, you won’t be surprised to learn that Campeys of Selby has embraced CPC and has set up an inhouse training school. Courses include first-aid and mental health. What’s more, all new drivers also attend a cycling awareness course, which in addition to a classroom session, involves some pedalling. “You can’t put cyclists in a truck, but you can put truck drivers on a bike,” said Harry. Knowing I was likely to be defeated once again, I didn’t even bother asking Harry his views on cyclists. And I was about to cross drivers off the list too.

Campeys of Selby rates its drivers highly and says there’s none of the ‘us and them’ attitude that exists at some firms. “To attract and retain quality drivers, you need to give them good work, good conditions, good wages and good kit,” declared Paul.

          Yes, we know you’ve been wondering… It’s a lightweight midlift pusher axle. Saves around 300kg and is quite common in the UK.

The ‘good kit’ he referred to are Scanias. The company runs an all-Scania fleet and, excepting one top-end DAF XF, everything on order has a griffin on its grille. The current truck of choice is the S500, spec’d with fridges, microwaves, and upgraded driver comforts. “It’s a prestige truck and helps to attract prestige drivers,” explained Paul.

Although I was beginning to feel defeated now, I still had two last secret weapons to unleash. Surely one of this final pair would be enough to break this overly enthusiastic father-and-son team. With that, I commented on how terrible I thought it was that an increasing number of roadside laybys were closing.

“Well, actually, I can see why [local councils] do close them,” said Harry, leaving me deflated. “A small minority of drivers have ruined it for the others by leaving rubbish strewn all over the place. There is no benefit to a council letting trucks park in a layby or industrial estate when they have to clean up the mess afterwards. While finding somewhere to park can be an issue, with everyone working smarter, there will be fewer trucks on the road.”

OK, there would be one more attempt. And thankfully, I’d saved the best for last. I asked about health and safety. Surely, that wouldn’t fail to get an angry response?

Over to Harry: “The industry is being led by health and safety, which is a good thing…”.

Right, that’s it, pen down, dictaphone off, interview terminated. I can’t possibly make a story out of this.