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Having endured the “most difficult week on the job in 20 years”, Pete White is still overcoming Brexit obstacles. However, the Whites Transport Services boss is now looking forward with a positive mindset and believes Brexit could work out well for some British hauliers.

Back in January, Pete White (standing in the foreground of the above photo) told the BBC he “was losing an absolute fortune everyday”. Things have improved since then though, despite the veterinary checks continuing to cause problems.

In this Trans.INFO exclusive, we quizzed Pete White on the current state of play for UK hauliers operating in Europe, how he sees the imports/export situation developing, and of course, the recent debacle with Parking Eye.

White also gave us his thoughts on the EU Single Market, competition from Central European carriers and the standard of UK lorry parks.

Thanks for taking the time to speak to us Pete. How are things going now compared to the first week of January?

We are doing very well with the customs clearance. The issues that we are having, which are major issues, are with the veterinary controls.

I have got a truck at the minute that was parked at Mont Blanc to go to Italy loaded with vegetables; it is now on its way back to Calais because of an administration error on paperwork, which is almost 2,000 kilometres of unnecessary travel.

We were meant to be taking potatoes to southern Italy and then reloading with butternut squash back to the UK. This job is completely up in the air now and there’s a lot of very distressed people, including myself, that didn’t sleep at all last night. I knew last night there was a possibility that we might have to turn back, but it was this morning when I found out. This is down to the loading point not giving the driver one document – they didn’t give the health certificate. It’s ridiculous, why do you need a health certificate for potatoes?  

So our driver didn’t give the health certificate when the truck cleared in Calais as they didn’t ask for it. They cleared him and they said “you’re free to go, have a good journey”, so we end up going as far as Mont Blanc before somebody realizes there’s an issue. It’s the first load of vegetables I’ve done this year; every time I’ve done something for the first time there’s been major issues. The first load of eggs, the first load of vegetables and so on. The first job is a disaster, then it gets better.

However, I don’t want to seem like a negative person about Brexit because my opinion is British hauliers will benefit from it. We have to weather the storm – we’ve already done it in January. We’ve probably done 16 exports from the UK into Europe at a fair price that we wouldn’t normally get because it would be aimed at European hauliers that normally go into Europe for next to nothing.

Some of the export rates from the UK at the minute are so low that they don’t even cover the price of the ferry, and the hauliers are already losing money on the job by the time they get to Calais – never mind jobs to Belgium, Holland, and Germany. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

What we want is a level playing field – that’s my personal opinion. On Brexit, I was split. For my family, I wanted to vote leave. But for my business, I wanted to remain because of how important it was for choice and to be doing international transport. So my personal beliefs and my business beliefs were split on Brexit.

It is tough, but we are definitely here with the right attitude, we are positive and we remain positive. We will not let it defeat us, but we are definitely having some challenges along the way. We are doing our utmost to make it work.

There are so many hauliers that do European work that have not even left the country yet, and we have already done probably 50 shipments there and back. None of those have been refused, but we’ve had problems in Calais – some of them took a long time. I think the longest we’ve had was 57 hours.

This is not because of the customs paperwork – all the delays we’ve had is because of the veterinary controls. And I’m not sure you’re aware that in Northern Ireland, they are not doing any controls at the moment because I believe there’s been threats. It is just customs clearance and then on your way; it is not safe to do the veterinary control at the moment. That’s just how serious the situation is.

The trailer I mentioned that was stuck at Calais for 57 hours was delayed because of the veterinary paperwork. It’s a six page document for each consignment on the trailer. So if you have 10 deliveries, there’ll be 60 pages. And there is so much information on them in the boxes that needs to be crossed and everything that needs to be filled out. And it is very, very simple for a mistake to be made given the amount of information on these documents. 

Then they need to be translated from English to French. There’s so many ways for mistakes to be made, and that is what the hurdle that we’re facing at the minute when we arrive at the French ports.

Some drivers feel that Brexit will result in better wages. Do you see the UK being in or out of the EU Single Market as having any effect on salaries? 

No, I think that will be true if there is a much higher demand. There’s a lot of companies that don’t venture into Europe and they’re not seeing what we’re seeing. We do UK and European, so we see it from both sides.

Honestly, our drivers earn what they earn, but they earn a lot more than many of their European counterparts. We do a weekly load to Belgium and recently we had one of our customers call us up to tell us a major Lithuanian logistics company had offered to cover this job for 360 euros. Now, this was Pre-Brexit, about 6 months ago. We can’t compete with that, by the time we stop in Calais we’ve already lost money.

The reason that we do the work we do is that we are specialized with the equipment we’ve got. We transport hanging carcasses and all of our trailers are equipped for this kind of transport. It’s this service that keeps us the work that we’ve got – the level of service that we give our customers. We don’t double down on any of our trucks, but we can still get them moving nonstop from one side of Europe to the other side by doing strategically placed changeovers. 

So trying to compete with Eastern European hauliers is tough. I have no problem with any Eastern European drivers, what I do have an issue with is the system. My personal belief is if there are goods to be transported from the UK to Italy there should only be UK or Italian hauliers allowed to do this. Nowadays you may have a Romanian registered truck with a Bulgarian driver that’s pulling a Dutch trailer which has then been subbed out to a Spanish haulier. That is what I have an issue with. 

I just want a level playing field. It’s not normal at all for our trucks to get off the ferry or the Eurotunnel train, drive to Naples and back home after paying 1,500 euros in tolls, when at the same time you could drive from Dover to John O’Groats and back for 20 quid. It’s not fair. 

We are trying to provide top of the range equipment and make the best choices to do our work. Every day is a struggle, regardless of Brexit. We are nonetheless hopeful that British hauliers going to Europe will come out of this stronger, but we have to weather the storm. 

The biggest issue for me at the moment, as I mentioned earlier, are the veterinary controls needed to clear our loads. I know a haulier who was carrying meat products and was given the green light at the Eurotunnel customs. He went to Southern Italy but that trailer had to come back – even though the light was green, his registration was green, and his dashcam proved it. Indeed, they’d even downloaded the footage. Then he was told that if he didn’t come back to Calais the export company and the haulier would be blacklisted, meaning they wouldn’t be able to transport goods into or through France anymore. 

There’s a huge lack of training on the first export. We’ve even had to educate the staff in Dover. When they scanned our paperwork, they were said it was wrong. But we knew it was right. We’ve gone through a huge amount of preparation and our customers have too. We knew what we did was right, but it was still wrong in their eyes and they refused us passage. So it ended up being another all night and early hours of the morning to persuade them and show them the errors.

That meant numerous phone calls from different countries, because one of the customers is using DFDS as a clearing agent. So we had to go through DFDS in Poland to actually explain to the people in Dover and others that the paperwork was correct. Yet it was still coming up that it was wrong.

People are trying to train whilst actively doing customs clearance. These people should have been trained before. We had a vehicle that was there; of the 10 people who were checking the seal of the trailer, 9 were being trained. This should have been done already.

There’s talk of an imbalance in trade right now as it appears to be easier to import goods from the UK into the EU than the other way around. Do you see it that way too?

To come into the UK at the minute all you need is an MRN number with a barcode. It’s very easy to attain them from the loading place or the place where you’re loading. The chances are the big companies will be doing it themselves. 

We have been chipping back into the UK with groupage, with fresh meat products like packaged meats, fruits, vegetables, chocolates and dairy produce. 

I’ve even heard of one truck that was waved through with a completely random MRN, so it’s a doddle getting back into the UK. It’s not causing me any stress at all. 

We are getting it from exports though. Again, it’s not the customs clearance but the veterinary controls that are the problem. 

Could we see disruption once the UK brings in more customs checks in July?

Lots and lots of people in the industry will be a lot better at what they’re doing by then. There’s lots of training, people will be more fluid and will understand it.

Honestly, I’ve been doing this job exporting to Europe for 20 years and I know my trade very well. But this is all completely new to me. We’ve done plenty of work that requires customs, we’ve gone to Norway multiple times, we’ve been to Switzerland. And we used to try and get Switzerland on the way back from Italy to save money. 

But we’ve never had the issues that we’re having now. But I think the first of July, when we’ll have the same procedure for coming back into the UK as well as for going out, If people hadn’t gotten their act together, then yeah, there could be some horrendous delays. 

We’ve seen delays, there’s been major issues with operation stack and vehicles being stacked on the A16 and the A26 out of Calais on the way back. We’ve been in that and we’ve seen it all. The reason why trade is fairly fluid at the minute is because the volume of traffic is nowhere near where it should be. 

If this was a busy time of year, with three or four times the amount of freight leaving and entering the UK, the delays would be horrendous. The first 10 trailers we sent into Europe, we had a total delay of 135 hours. That’s an average of 13 and a half hours for each truck to clear customs. 

And what about the infamous Parking Eye situation? Do you expect to get a personal reply from them soon? 

I’d be prepared to take it to court if they wanted to, but I’m pretty certain they’re just going to send me a generic reply to say that it has been cancelled and forgotten about, which is the first one I’ve had in the last 12 months. I hope I get some sort of personal reply. But I very much doubt It.

That said, it’s actually the owners of the services that I have more of a bone with than Parking Eye. They’re the ones that are not making it safe; they’re the ones that charge extortionate prices. I understand that people will just pop in there and take liberties if there wasn’t some form of charge, but they are unbelievably overpriced. If you pulled into a lorry park in Germany and were charged 40 euros to park, you’d be shocked. 

There’s not enough truck parking in the UK for drivers. Lorry drivers and hauliers in the UK are treated like lepers. You pull in somewhere with a fridge running, and everybody expects you to turn off – even truck parks expect it to be turned off, yet they are quite happy to go to the local shop or the supermarket to buy their chilled and frozen products.

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