Trade Plating Around England, Part Three

Photo by Samuele Errico Piccarini on Unsplash

How it all hangs together and how easily it goes pear shaped.

Brief recap, I spent two and a half years trade plating round England with the occasional foray into Scotland and Wales.

Part one is here and part two is here.

The job had settled down into a regular pattern of early morning starts and late evening finishes. After a couple of months I had got to know most of the drivers at least by sight and quite a few by name. There was still this “them and us” between the two sets of drivers, However once the self employed drivers saw that you were “not a lazy agency wanker” there was a grudging acceptance of your presence. Around thirty self employed drivers and another twenty agency drivers were working each week. Not always all at once but on a few rare occasions there have been nearly eighty drivers used. This was usually at the time when the new registration numbers were issued.

In the yard were two portacabins, one in front of the other with a door between the two. In the back was the, for want of a better title, the general manager. Pete was around 6ft 5in and 18 stone once a powerful man, now in his fifties it had slipped from his chest down to his belly. If you were called in there, it usually wasn’t good news. If you were called in and the door shut behind you then it was probably your last day working there.

In with Pete were all the servers, the telephone cabinet with the voice recorders for every call and all the other it equipment that gave off heat and turned the office into a furnace. He sat in there winter and summer wearig a three piece suit.

In the front portacabin was where the work was done. In here were crammed, the office manager, Alan, two job planners, Mark and Dean, the office manager’s assistant Hayley and three other assistants who never appeared to stay more than three or four months.

Who does what

Pete the general manager dealt with clients who were the backbone of the business. The big dealerships where we did interbranch transfers and end of lease collections. A few truck manufacturers, panel van manufacturers and companies with fleets of vehicles delivering, collecting and swapping vans and cars. If and when things went wrong big time he was the one whose job it was to smooth things over.

Alan the office manager was the buffer between the drivers and Pete, If someone needed a bollocking it was his job to do it. He had to make everything run smoothly. An impossible job, but if the work got done and everyone got back OK then he was happy. He also oversaw everything that was going on in the office, was the main decision maker on day to day issues and the buck stopped with him. I hope he was well paid.

Mark and Dean the planners. These two are the core of the business. Mark who is in his early 30s has done this since he left school. Dean in his mid 40s has been doing it for two years. He was a driver, but 15 points on his licence forced a career change. Both have an encyclopedic knowledge of the UK and are wizards at working out job plans for the drivers.

Hayley is nominally Alan’s assistant but spends most of her time supporting Mark and Dean. She is a buffer to stop the drivers calling direct to the planners with minor issues as well as helping prepare the list of jobs.

The other three assistants in the office spend the day fielding calls from the drivers with details of the petrol used, problems they are having and enquiries from customers.

But how does it all work I hear you asking.

Firstly every driver has a magnetic namestrip. This is colour coded depending on self employed or agency. Also marked on the strip is the type of licence held. HGV, HGV and Bus, Bus or Van.

Jobs from the main customers will come in any time up until 12.00. Anything after that time will not be processed until the next day. On an average day there could be up to 150 jobs. Mark and Dean have all the jobs on a pc screen and start going through the jobs to find the furthest collection points, they then look at this and figure out how to get there via two other jobs. In the office are two enormous magnetic white boards, one for today and one for tomorrow. The boards have a grid template painted on to allow the jobs to be written up easily using marker pens. The two of them start writing up the jobs on the board in a rough form trying to make sense. Usually two jobs going away from the yard and one coming back. There is much rubbing out and rewriting during the process.

Meanwhile Alan is logging on to the various auction companies websites to see what delivery jobs are available to bid for. You can look at the vehicles they need moving (collection and delivery points) and if you want the work you bid on it. The lowest price wins. This work is ideal for filling in gaps in the plans that Mark and Dean are working out.

The auction jobs are then added to existing jobs and further confusion reigns until some semblance of order is achieved. Once they are happy with the planning, driver names are added the row of jobs. This is not a precise science, it is based on favouritism first and ability second. The favourite drivers get the longest trips with the shortest distance between jobs. Self employed drivers are paid by the job depending on the mileage, so long jobs with short distances between and a return journey to back near the yard are highly prized. Any self employed driver who is out of favour knows that he is not going to be making much money until his star starts to rise again.

An email will then be sent to the agency telling them how many drivers they will need for the following day. The agency drivers are left with the jobs that the self employed don’t like or want. The better drivers get the more complex jobs whereas the newer drivers get ones with transfers between jobs that are easier.

Once the board has been agreed then the jobs are allocated and emails sent out in the evening for the next day.

It’s one thing sending the drivers out in the morning but it is another to get them back to base in the evening. This involves frantic phone calls starting from around 4.00pm asking where you are and can you pick up another driver or two on your way back. There are also two minibuses going round picking up and dropping off drivers throughout the day. They also try to sweep up any stranded drivers. Hopefully by the end of the day everyone is back where they need to be.

Simple things like missed trains, breakdowns, traffic jams and any sort of hold up can ruin what was a well thought out plan. The planners really earn their money when problems start. They have to think on their feet and make immediate decisions that in turn may alter several drivers day just because someone has missed a train and won’t get to the next job in time. The girls in the office have to start ringing round to warn drivers that their jobs are about to be altered or changed to fit in with the new circumstances.


I have said that there are self employed and agency drivers. There is also a third type of driver that I briefly mentioned in part 2. “Temp to Perm” drivers.

During your first two months with the agency although you don’t know it you are being assessed by the staff in the office, a couple of the long term self employed drivers and the agency itself. You then have an interview with the agency to be told that you are being considered for “Temp to Perm”. This is a transition where you move from the agency books on to the company books as a self employed driver. The reason for this is that as an agency driver your cost to the company is around 50% more than a self employed driver. The company wants you off the agency list and on to their list if you are any good. They guarantee that during the transition period your money will not be less than you would earn at the agency. What they don’t tell you is that you will be responsible for your own tax, NI and filling out self assessment forms at the year end and that you will end up getting less work as you are at the bottom of the self employed pecking order. Kev2 had told me all this so I was well prepared when the day came. Chris from the agency called me to set up the appointment and I agreed to see him later the same day when I was back in the yard with an early finish. I’m certain my jobs for the day were set up like that to make sure there was time.

The usual “how are you getting on”, was followed by the explanation of the “Temp to Perm” scheme and he said that it was decided that I should enrol on it. He went on to say how much they thought of me and that I was doing a good job. He then produced paperwork for me to sign to start the move. “I’m not joining it” I said. “Why not” Chris asked me. I explained that there was no way at my age I was going to become self employed. “I’ve done that before and I won’t be doing it again.” Shocked and stunned he just looked at me. I think because I am polite and prepared to do any job they ask of me they thought I was soft. They thought wrong. He then went on to say he wasn’t sure if there would be much more work for me if I didn’t sign. I said that they know how good and reliable a worker I am and if they want to shoot themselves in the foot by getting rid of me it was up to them. A bit about how I might regret missing this opportunity and that was the end of that and the scheme was never mentioned again and the work carried on as normal. Many who came after me joined and to a man regretted it. There were only four agency drivers who refused to join the scheme. Kevin, Kev2, James and myself.

And that is how it all runs. At times is looks like chaos and what has been set up for the day is rarely how it plays out. To me that was part of the enjoyment of the job. The unpredictability of what was going to be happening as the day went on.

Long Bennington

Just one plating experience in this part.

I had had a job cancelled on a Friday afternoon and was back in the yard at 15.30. I was just about to do my paperwork and sign out when I was called into the office. “Can you do a job out to Long Bennington and back, its needed there for Monday morning first thing” Alan asked. “No” I replied, “its a horrible place”. “It’s key to key, you will be back in two hours” he said. “Can you check if there is fuel in the return car”, I asked.

A brief explanation, Long Bennington is an old RAF base, once RAF Bottesford, located between Newark and Grantham. The old runways are used as hard standing for cars, both new unregistered and used. One of the “fleet solutions” companies has a storage and preparation area on the site. The site is in the middle of nowhere and the nearest petrol station is thirteen miles away. If you pick up a car from there that doesn’t have enough fuel then you are on your own. They will not give you any fuel to make to the nearest garage. The staff were surly, rude and didn’t care if you ran out or not. When I had been before it was in one of the minibuses with other drivers and jerry cans were in the back with diesel and petrol. There was no way I was going there if there was no fuel in the return car.

Once a phone call had been made I was assured that there was sufficient fuel to at least get me to the nearest garage.

Key to key is the self employed drivers ideal job, once you drop of your vehicle, you are collecting from the same location. They love it as it is quick and there is no travel time between jobs that they don’t get paid for.

The journey out to Long Bennington was uneventful, on arrival I parked outside the compound and went over to the security office to tell them I had come to collect a car. Showed the guard the collection documentation and he asked what I was doing with the car I had arrived in. “You can’t leave that there” he said. I told him it was going to be dropped off but only if my collection had fuel. He grumbled but let me through. I walked up to the collections office, presented my paperwork and was generally quite cheerful. This appeared to have the opposite effect on the staff. I was handed the pass out slip to release the keys and allow me through the exit barrier. I asked if it had fuel in it. “Dunno, not my problem”, was the reply, “It will be as I wont be taking it”. “How you gonna get back then, walk?” I let them know that I hadn’t dropped off the one I was delivering and I would be going back in it if there was no fuel.

Off I went to get the keys and check the car over. Fortunately they were true to their word and there was fuel, enough for the return journey. Handed the pass out to the gate man and parked up next to the car I had arrived in. Swapped over the trade plates and then booked in the car to be delivered. Drive back to the yard and all finished by 18.30 on a Friday. Happy days.

Next time, Driving the minibus, a bit of racial tension and a near punch up.

© 10210ken 2023