Haulage company turns recruitment corner after upping wages five times

Tremayne Johnson, operations director at Bartrums Haulage company in Eye

Haulage boss Tremayne Johnson of Bartrums in Eye thinks the UK should solve its own driver shortage problem - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

When the government came under pressure this year to relax its hardline stance on bringing in overseas labour to plug a chronic driver shortage, one haulage boss based in north Suffolk did something quite surprising.

Bartrums’ operations director Tremayne Johnson wrote to transport secretary Grant Shapps to urge him not to bow to pressure to extend a temporary three-month visa scheme enabling up to 5,000 foreign lorry drivers to come to the UK to prop up a supply chain in crisis.

Tremayne’s stance was all the more extraordinary given that during the course of the year his company had to put up driver pay awards five times as the entire sector struggled to hang on to its workforce. 

He admitted that what he describes as the pay “correction” over last few months had been “incredibly painful” but argued that the industry needed to attract a new generation of British drivers.

“We have to get to a point where at least some percentage of school leavers choose driving. That’s incredibly important and extending the visa scheme isn’t something I’d like to see happen,” he told Mr Shapps.

Tremayne — a haulage boss since the late 1980s — saw the recruitment crisis as “an opportunity to dig ourselves out of the problem” after the seemingly never-ending supply of European Union labour which had been flowing in to plug the gaps in the haulage industry finally dried up.

Cousins Robert and Shaun of Bartrums Haulage company in Eye

Cousins Robert and Shaun Bartrum, who are both managing directors of Bartrums Haulage company in Eye - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

It’s an ethos that has been paying off at the family-owned haulage and logistics business which is now run by the third generation of the family — cousins Robert Bartrum and Shaun Bartrum and a son-in-law of the second generation, Stephen Potter — who are joint managing directors. It has a turnover of £32m, employs 255 people and operates a 160-strong fleet and 200 trailers.

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The company — originally based in Diss where the family still lives — was founded by Leonard Bartrum back in 1929, initially to haul fruit and vegetables to the London markets. He died in 1983, aged 78.

Leonard’s three sons Roger, Phillip and Roy followed their father into the business, taking over the wheel in the 1970s. They steered it to a wider range of activities, expanding in to warehousing and in-house workshops.

Then in 2004, the third generation took over and moved the operation to Eye, and the old base at Diss became the Bartrum Mews housing estate. 

Today, three members of the fourth generation are also involved and the company has expanded its warehousing offering to around 200,000sq ft across multiple sites in Suffolk which service more than 30 storage customers.

The firm trains its own staff — and those outside the company — through its Bartrums Training arm and the driver shortage has created a new opportunity to train up a fresh generation of drivers.

Tremayne has been with the business for two years having spent 13 years at DHL. Bartrums is a “proud” Suffolk business, he says.

But the status of lorry driving has been in decline in the UK for many years, he believes. The influx of eastern European drivers in the early 2000 only served to kick the problem into the long grass. “I remember thinking: ‘Gosh, this is amazing — we can get as many drivers as we want,’” he says. “It very definitely led to a period of stagnation which I think helped no one.”

Their departure has now prompted much soul-searching in the industry.

“It’s a wake-up call and the industry needs to look to itself about how it’s allowed wages to get to the point that no one leaving school wants to do the job. It’s tragic to be in a senior position in an industry that I know deep in my heart people don’t want to be in,” he says.

Shaun says as a result of all the upward pressure on costs, the firm has had to put up its prices — and had expected to lose some of its customers as a result, but they have all remained with it.

“To be fair our customers have come on board with it. We have had to put up the rates of pay I think around 20% in a short period of time,” he says.

“I think the haulage industry was worse hit than others but I think there’s a shortage of staff whatever business you are in at the moment. 

“To be honest, we are in a lot better position than we were three or four months ago. We have taken a lot of drivers on.”

He added: “To be honest with you with the increase in wage we have put in place it probably should have been a long while ago and at the end of the day we are doing reasonably OK — it’s definitely picked up.”

Drivers travel locally and throughout the country. Expansion of the business is limited only by capacity — there is strong demand in both haulage and warehouse as the country plays catch-up after the economy was severely depressed in 2020 at the height of the pandemic.

“The demand is off the scale,” says Tremayne. “We could have twice the fleet out.”

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