Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Road Haulage, Freight and Logistics Groups Fear Olympic Drought

Routes Planned but Locals Live in Fear of Siege and Loss of Business
Shipping News Feature

UK – With around 100 days before the start of the London Olympics not everyone is looking fondly toward the prospect of so much happening in the East End of London. Certainly, as we have reported previously, bodies such as local Councils, Transport for London (TfL) and the British International Freight Association (BIFA) have made every effort to smooth the path of road haulage and logistics operators which need to continue business as usual throughout the Games with the use of seminars, workshops and web advice. Now however the likely casualties caused by restriction of trade as roads close and hours of working are cut are beginning to ask - Why Us?

Local businesses have found it necessary to bind themselves together into a loose organisation to protest at the Games, an event which both the incumbent Government and the previous administration seemingly view as a giant boost to trade. This alliance has been forged in a bid to reduce the damage done to them as it has become increasingly obvious that the opportunity to work normally for the sixteen days in July and August of the Olympics and then again the twelve Paralympic days just two weeks later is extremely unlikely. None of the companies involved seem against the Games themselves merely pointing out that for some of them the cost may even prove fatal.

Two groups are affected directly and both say they are unable to obtain any answers from the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG). Chris Farrar runs a transport consultancy service for local road hauliers with his main clientele consisting of a hundred or so cement mixer and tipper drivers for whom he normally eases the usual problems any and all hauliers are subject to, operator licences, tachograph offences etc. His company, Transport Help UK, has been inundated with requests for help from operators, many of them owner drivers, who face disaster if unable to trade through the summer.

Running a tipper truck or mixer means the average truck needs to earn around £450 per day to enable the owner to pay for diesel, finance, servicing and repairs and have enough left over for a living wage. If the truck sits idle the only cost saving is the £100 or so in fuel with the standing charges remaining the same. In this case the hauliers are looking to present their portfolio of work to the Games Committee to demonstrate how their earnings have been cut in a bid to earn some compensation. Any work they can undertake during the events can be offset against their potential losses.

Operators in these industries may be strangled as cement production plants marooned by road closures and restrictions in access to the Blackwall Tunnel mean they have reduced work opportunities. Critics will say that many of this type of smaller operator have earned money from the Games already with the amount of construction work which the area has witnessed in the past year or two. This however cannot be said of the other companies in the area who are facing a very uncertain future with no clue from those responsible as to how hard they will actually be hit as plans to close roads etc. are seemingly fluid and at the whim of LOCOG, Tfl and different London councils.

These are the firms whose premises are situated at the very heart of Games country, some recent incomers present for only two or three years, others who have worked in the area in companies trading there for over a century and a half. All fear that the unavoidable loss of business could deliver a fatal blow, with other similar trade groups outside able to supply services during the Games meaning that those trapped within the East End may well find that work undertaken by these other companies during their siege lost forever to them and impossible to regain after normality returns.

Lead spokesman for those due to be besieged is local haulier Graham Phelps, boss at Phelps Transport, working from their Hackney premises and an established operator for twenty two years. Speaking to Mr Phelps reveals a man who is simply baffled by the implacable beast that seems to face him and his supporters. Nobody within LOCOG it seems wants to step up and give a definitive answer to a problem it has either not foreseen or simply chooses to ignore. Mr Phelps having pointed out that around 550 jobs are at risk continues:

“We can give them records of our sales for the past one, two or even ten years and show how these compare to what we turnover when the Games are under way. The problem is nobody can tell us what the restrictions will be and how precisely they will affect trade.”

Mr Phelps and the others are not anti Olympics, they estimate they could lose 70% of business whilst the Games are being held but until the dust settles no real price can be put upon them. What is certain however is that, if a solution is not found before July, then the chances are LOCOG will disband and the only possibility for recompense will be via the Courts, a costly and retrospective legal action unlikely to prove satisfactory for anyone and possibly a move made futile post Olympics if firms go under.

To this end the protestors have employed the services of Bindmans LLP, a legal firm with a propensity and reputation for civil liberty and human rights issues, and established a ‘fighting fund’ both of which they hope will prove unnecessary. With little more than three months before the action begins the firms trapped by one of the worlds leading attractions will hope their actions can prompt the relevant authorities into giving their immediate attention to the matter of mediation and possible compensation.

Editor's Note: In response to this article a LOCOG spokesperson issued the following statement on the 15th April:

We want to ensure people who live and work in the vicinity of our venues are able to continue going about their business with the minimum of disruption this summer. We are working closely with Local Authorities and TfL on our plans and liaising with local businesses to talk to them about their plans and requirements.