Rob Flello calls for greater recognition
Those who know him well will tell you it doesn’t happen often, but today, at least, Rob Flello is exasperated.
“It’s a hugely important cog in the wheel of our national life but it never receives the appreciation it deserves, and that’s galling,” he says.
The ‘it’ which is the object of the MP’s frustration is the UK’s vehicle recovery industry and its army of workers.
“Nothing would move if they didn’t do what they do,” continues the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Freight Transport.
“People just don’t seem to realise that just about everything we buy in the shops or online arrives by road, everything from food to toiletries, clothes and home furnishings.
“If the vehicle recovery industry wasn’t there to keep freight transport moving, the lorries and our lives would grind to a halt.
“If a lorry breaks down and stops goods reaching the shops or materials arriving at a factory then the industry urgently looks to the recovery sector to get things moving.”
He emphasises the recovery industry’s critical importance to ensuring the logistics sector meets the tightest of deadlines by highlighting the transportation of four very different types of goods.
“Take sandwiches and newspapers,” Mr Flello says. “If neither arrives on time it goes out of date. And if a lorry load of next-day delivery parcels fail to get there in time, thousands of people suffer and thousands of pounds are lost. And if just-in-time vehicle parts don’t arrive at the factory, the production line grinds to a halt. Mercifully, though, the recovery industry can be relied on to save the day.”
The standing and fortunes of the vehicle recovery industry are far from recent additions to the list of the Stoke-on-Trent South MP’s concerns.
He has championed the sector’s interests in Parliament for a number of years and is well aware of the ways it has adapted to the shifting sands of time.
“The vehicle recovery industry has undergone considerable change since its inception, which coincided with the dawn of the motor industry in the late 19th Century,” Mr Flello says.
“For starters, the equipment has become far more sophisticated, enabling recovery operations which would have taken hours – or even days – to be completed in short order.
“And the training, conducted by key industry bodies – including the Road Rescue Recovery Association, Association of Vehicle Recovery Operators, Road Haulage Association, Institute of Vehicle Recovery and the Scottish Vehicle Recovery Association – is now top notch.”
The increasing numbers of vehicles on the roads and rising customer demands have also driven improvements to response times and efficiency, the MP explains.
Meanwhile, the twin requirements of health and safety and environmental legislation mean any wrecked or damaged vehicles must be removed with speed to remove risks to both the human and natural worlds.
Mr Flello says the modern requirement to quickly establish any blame for incidents requiring recoveries has also effected change.
“Vehicle recovery today is a hugely efficient system, just like the rest of the transport world,” he says.
“And it’s now very competitive because it’s such a crowded market. You’ve got to be good to survive.”
The passage of time has not only affected the industry but also the nature of the incidents it deals with, the MP explains.
Recoveries have become more varied and increasingly technical, forcing staff to broaden their mechanical skills with knowledge of often-complex vehicle computer systems.
As this digitalisation has gradually become a prominent feature in recovery operators’ lives, the safety of the vehicles they rescue and the roads they use has also improved.
Mr Flello underlines this point by highlighting examples such as traffic calming measures, changes to road layouts and the fitting of lorry speed limiters.
He says many trucks, for example those carrying refrigerated perishable goods, are fitted with hi-tech monitoring systems so owners can track them to ensure they reach their destinations on time.
And then there is the digitalisation fostered by the advent of increasingly rigorous exhaust emission controls, Mr Flello says.
The latest of these, the Euro5 vehicle standards, will shortly be superseded by those known as Euro6. It’s often said that the emissions from the latest trucks is cleaner than the air that goes in.
But while many aspects of the industry have and are continuing to change, some, sadly, have remained the same.
“Apart from breakdowns, recovery industry insiders tell me that most incidents they attend are caused by driver error, including the use of excessive speed,” Mr Flello says.
“And when the recoveries they attend have resulted in tragedy, the impact on the recovery staff can remain with them for the rest of their lives, a fact not many people are aware of.”
Regardless of initiatives to improve vehicle safety, roads and driver education, it appears inevitable that the horrific will always form part of recovery specialists’ lives as they continue to rescue everything from private cars to gas and oil tankers, ambulances and articulated trucks.
But one thing Mr Flello is determined to change is the esteem in which the recovery industry is held by the public as it faces a future which, although scheduled to reinforce its vital importance to the British economy, is likely to be marked by a decline in operator numbers and increasing technical complexity.
“Nobody would be happier than me if a way could be found to highlight the excellence in the sector to the wider public so they could at last give those who work in the vehicle recovery trade the appreciation they so richly deserve,” he says, with passion.
“I have made it my New Year’s resolution to continue to look out for the industry and to do everything possible to improve its standing.”