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How to avoid a PR crisis (and a fuel shortage)

I tried really hard not to be that person who queued up for fuel in the current fuel shortage; I’m lucky that I live in a city with great public transport and felt there were people who needed it more than I. But this morning I caved. Every week I visit my father, who is 86 and lives alone, and there is no public transport near his house. So I joined the list of people who follow fuel tankers into petrol stations.

As I waited to fill up, I had some time to think. This isn’t a fuel crisis, it’s a driver crisis. And there’s no way a country can lose 100,000 HGV drivers overnight. There are warning signs first.

Not all crises can be avoided, but some can. The best kind of crisis management is always about prevention. Early warnings might come from industry data, grumblings on communities or social media, decades of slow decline, a health crisis, or a change in political circumstance. Or all of the above.

Things we know about HGV drivers. They are mostly over 50, male, and have a poor life/work balance. They spend a long time away from home and their working environment can be shocking: poor facilities, patchy access to decent food on the road, often sleeping in their vehicles with no security, and – despite media reports – badly paid. In a country which relies heavily on road freight, they’re also essential to the supply of pretty much everything we need.

Things we know about the industry. There’s been a massive increase in home delivery services through the pandemic, from UberEats to Amazon, all of which need drivers. So if you were an HGV driver, approaching retirement age and reviewing your options, I can see why you might consider jacking in nights of being parked on the M20 in Operation Stack, and choosing a more local driving job. It might be equally badly paid, but at least you get to sleep in your own bed at night and spend time with your family.

That’s the kind of crisis you can see coming, and do something about. If you’re shutting half the population (women) out of the business because of poor facilities, working conditions and safety concerns, and younger people aren’t joining you, you have a problem.

The moral of this story: fix the problem before you hit the crisis.

Article written by Kate Hartley, Co-Founder, Polpeo

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