Trade Plating Around England, Part One

Photo by Samuele Errico Piccarini on Unsplash

This is part 1 of a few about my trials and tribulations of two and a half years spent as a trade plate driver. You are bound to have seen “platers” with their red and white number plates either whizzing up and down the motorway or standing at a junction with their trade plates out, trying to hitch a lift to the next job. The hitching a lift malarkey is long gone as there are tight schedules to keep to, and for some jobs, an appointed time for collection or delivery. The rushing about is very much part and parcel of the job.

A bit of background first.

Having spent over forty five years in customer facing jobs, the last ten working for myself, I found I was getting fed up of having to be pleasant to people. It was a case of tighter margins and customers trying to force a “better” deal by saying the usual “I can buy for £5.00 less from another site”, that I decided that enough was enough.

I was sixty three and not ready or financially able to take early retirement and sail off into the sunset. I wanted something for around three days a week so that we had time to go out and about and to see our grandchildren more.

What to do? I didn’t want to do anything that involved too much interaction with arsey people. Registered with Indeed and started trawling through the jobs looking for something that might be available for the skill set that I have.

I left (was expelled) school at sixteen and spent two years at the local technical college, now a university, studying catering management. At that time there was no problem in getting on to company training schemes as a trainee manager. I started as a trainee manager with Berni Inns at 18, spent around three years working in various branches throughout East Anglia before being appointed deputy manager at one of their hotels. Then moved to the midlands as a manager of their sites with three bars and two restaurants. I did that for another two years before the long hours and the permanently tired feeling got to me.

I then spent two soulless years working as a rep for the leading frozen chip manufacturer. I had a friend who at that time had a contract with Radio Rentals to take all their ex-rental stock, refurbish it and then re-sell it and he said, if I wanted, he had a job I could do helping to refurbish video recorders. Less money but much more fun. Eventually that led me to becoming an alarm engineer, running a security installation company and finally an online business selling gate installation equipment, intruder alarms and door entry systems.

But I digress, back at Indeed looking through I spotted jobs for “trade plate drivers” but they all wanted six months experience. The thought of driving cars around the UK and getting paid for it was something that appealed to me. Mrs.10210 wasn’t so sure. I did spot one that didn’t ask for experience, however it was an agency and I was not sure if I wanted to work through a third party. I gave them a ring anyway and was told that I could have an interview that day and to bring my driving licence with me. The interview was in Tamworth about 25miles from me, but I wasn’t doing anything so off I went.

Found the place all right, was asked to wait in the reception, in the offices I could hear someone getting a absolute bollocking with raised voices and swearing going on. I’m now thinking, is this a company I want to work for.

A man probably around 70 called me in to an office asked for my driving licence and then opened a laptop where there was a highway code type questionnaire ready. He said to work my way through it and have a go at any of the questions I wasn’t sure about.

Questionnaire completed I was then ushered into the interview proper. This was done by Chris and he told me that I would be reporting to him. The job was based around five miles from my home and that it involved driving cars and vans from various locations throughout the UK to wherever they needed to be collected or dropped off. The main thing he said was that there could be some long days. (He lied, everyday was a long day, the longest being 19 hours.) I was asked if I had a satnav and access to funds as I might have to pay for the occasional public transport. (Another lie, up to £100 per week in expenses to fork out). He said most of the time there would be a minibus taking drivers from one job to the next. (Three lies in one interview is pretty good going.)

The job was offered and accepted with the promise that there was plenty of work and that I would receive a phone call within the next couple of days with a start time and site contact for the following day.

And so it began. One of the most eye opening jobs I have ever had in one of the most unregulated sectors of the transport industry. Dangerous practices, perpetual speeding, drug taking, alcoholism, crashes, arguments and near fights all took place whilst I was there. As this is all within the recent past, I will be changing peoples names and some locations.

The interview had been on a Friday and I had a call the following Tuesday to say that I was required the following day and to go to site at 08.00 report to Dermot and that he would show me the ropes.

I arrived at around 7.55, there were groups of people standing around and I asked if anyone could point out Dermot. He was duly pointed out and I introduced myself to him. “Follow me” he said and off we went into what looked like a WWII pillbox, all concrete and no windows. This was the key room where all the vehicles on site had there keys stored. There was also a sign in sheet for all the agency drivers and a pile of job sheets, one for each agency driver. This sheet also had your trade plate number on the top. There was a pile of trade plates on a table and I raked through until I found the ones allocated to me. “They go back in here when you’re done”. I was also given a vehicle inspection book. This had four sheets for each inspection to note down any defects, start and end mileage, amount of fuel, start point and delivery destination. Eventually this would become digital.

The job sheet had your name, trade plate number, a list of the jobs for you that day and most importantly the maximum amount of fuel you could put in for each job.

My list had three jobs: from the yard to the local Manheim auction site. From there to Doncaster and then Hull to another auction site about 2 miles from the start point.

A quick demonstration of how to do a vehicle inspection in less than 5 minutes. “It’s going to auction, no one gives a shit” is how it was done. “Top copy you keep or give to the customer on collection, the next one is for drop off and the last two get handed in at the end of the day.

At around 08.15 we set off, me in a well worn Vauxhall Combo van, Dermot in British Rail track workers welfare van and a third driver in a Transit van.

Arrived at the auction site and quickly dropped off. Paperwork done it was then off to the counter to get the next one for Doncaster. The process was that you told them the reg no. of the vehicle you were collecting and the buyer. They already knew who the transport company was (us) and a release slip was then issued. Through to their key room to get the keys and find the location for the van I was collecting. Dermot and I were heading to the same place, the third driver was going to Goole. We got the vans and did another inspection, this time I was told to be more thorough and to note every fault as if it wasn’t noted then you will have to pay for it.

Up to the local garage to fuel up. Dermot fuelled his and my van and gave me the receipt.

Off we went, This was my first experience of vans being restricted to 56mph. No matter how hard I tried it wouldn’t go any faster. A long drive up the M1 then M18 then into Doncaster. I had been following Dermot until my satnav sent me a different way in to his. However we met up at the garage we were delivering to. The garage owner asked where the third van was. We didn’t know.

On walking out the garage we were met by the driver who was supposed to be going to Goole. Dermot’s next job was also in Goole. I asked how I was to get to Hull. He said, we would be taken by the third driver. Francis, was a six foot plus west Indian with his hair in dreadlocks who laughed a lot. We had to wait for another driver to turn up before we could set off. This late driver was a godsend to me as in the hour we had to wait I learnt more about what was involved in the job. Firstly, Google maps will be your saviour. It will tell you how to get from A to B by public transport. Where the bus stops are, when the buses arrive and where to get off, the same with the trains.

They also explained that there were two sets of drivers used. Self employed working directly for the company, like them, who got paid per job and agency drivers who got paid hourly. They said there was animosity between the two sets as the self employed thought the agency staff lazy and the agency staff thought they got all the rubbish jobs the self employed wouldn’t take. There turned out to be a bit of truth on both sides.

Keep your head down and get on was the advice given.

An hour later the third van was dropped off and we were set to go to Hull. There was an issue that there were only three seats and four people. As Kevin(the fourth driver) arrived last, he had to sit in the back of the van on the spare wheel. In the hour it took to get to Hull Francis appeared to aim for every pothole as a punishment for Kevin being late.

A rather shaken Kevin and squashed me were dropped off outside a Honda franchise in Hull. By this time it was about two thirty and I was starving. We had to pick up two trade ins that were going to auction. They were in a compound about a mile away and while we waited to be taken there a very nice receptionist showed us where the tea and coffee were kept.

Once we got to the compound and had done our inspections it was off back to the auction near our base. Kevin fuelled me up on the way and lunch was taken on the road.

Kevin was also an agency driver and had been working for them for around four years, he said he would show me what to do with all the paperwork once we got back to base. He did say before we set off that even if you know the way to your destination, always put your satnav on so that the speed cameras will be alerted.

When we had dropped off the vehicles it was a slow walk back to the yard, probably around 4.30 in the afternoon. I was shown where to put the paperwork, how I should take a photo of any expenses I have had and to photo petrol receipts. Job numbers had to be written on everything.

He took me into the offices and asked for fuel cards for me, I was told as soon as they had them They would be in an envelope in the key room.

And that was the first day. I still had a lot to learn, however I had a bit of knowledge about the politics going on and that was perhaps the most important lesson.

Next time I’m out on my own.

© 10210ken 2023