A specialist transport lawyer has urged hauliers to switch strategy if their work isn’t essential to the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak.
He advised 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, Tim Culpin, transport partner at law firm Aaron and Partners, 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 motortransport.co.uk.
“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 two metres 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.
“It’ll affect everyone, long term, and I’m appalled at society that it took so long to realise that social distancing is essential.”
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