By Scott Wright

THE Irvine-based parent company of Maxi Haulage has reported an increase in turnover and profit after taking steps to mitigate impact of Brexit, driver shortages and Covid disruption.

Maxi Caledonian, which also owns companies in the construction and warehousing sectors, doubled profits to £4 million in the year to September 30, accounts newly filed at Companies House show.

Turnover increased to more than £80m from £74.5m, with the company noting that it had seen less disruption to its construction business than it did the year before because of the pandemic.

But it warned current trading was being tested by the surging cost of fuel and materials for the construction industry, with Covid remaining an outstanding issue.

With a fleet of around 150 vehicles and 630 trailers, long-established Maxi Haulage is the dominant part of Maxi Caledonian, and provides haulage, distribution and logistics services throughout the UK and Ireland. Maxi Caledonian employs 340 staff, with around 300 in haulage and 30 in construction.

Gerry Atkinson, chairman of Maxi Caledonian, told The Herald: “We are battling on, and coping. We do not have any debt [and] we buy all of our own equipment. It is a difficult time but we are coping. Brexit is largely behind us from a haulage point of view, although there could be changes in Northern Ireland [to the post-Brexit protocol].

“Covid, is it away yet? We do not know. We just have to wait and see.”

The company noted that its successful performance over the period covered by the accounts being reported had continued into the current year. However, Mr Atkinson flagged the challenge posed by “silly” fuel prices and difficulties in securing new vehicles, which has its roots in manufacturers “playing catch up” after factories were closed down during lockdown. Maxi has placed orders for 20 new trailers and 20 new trucks; it would like to order 60 more trailers and a 10 further trucks but is currently unable to.

Mr Atkinson also noted that the cost of construction materials has “shot up” amid the ongoing supply-chain disruption that has arisen from the pandemic.

Asked if the company could do anything to mitigate the high cost of fuel, Mr Atkinson said the vehicles run by Maxi are as “efficient as you can get”. He added that route management is “critical” to ensure the trucks are utilised as efficiently as possible. “But at the end of the day you have got to pass that [extra fuel cost] on to the customer,” he said. “That’s the only option you have got. You have to take some of the pain yourself, which we do.”

Mr Atkinson said the company is continually looking at the electric vehicle market, but while they are increasingly being used by bus companies and as local authority refuse vehicles, “we are some way off for general haulage”, given the long distances companies such as Maxi cover.

Mt Atkinson said: “We will be there as soon as there is a better option.”

Maxi reported that it had been able during the period to mitigate driver shortages, chiefly by making the pay more attractive.

“We put our salaries and wages up significantly, which was good because it needed to happen,” Mr Atkinson said. “The wages in the haulage industry had been forced down over the years by customers.

“Now we have been able to increase them, that will attract more drivers back to the industry. A lot of drivers left because the money was not good enough. There are a lot coming back now.”

He added: “We are okay, just, for drivers at the moment. We have not got a surplus, but not much of a shortage either.

“But it is an ongoing problem which will be solved by more drivers being trained, more drivers coming back to the industry. Obviously, an attractive wage packet is part of that. And I think the pandemic showed how essential road transport is – road transport kept going right through without any hiccups.

“The industry needs to be recognised as an important part of the well-being of the general public.”

“The fact is, if there was no haulage for a few days, the shops would be empty. I don’t think people really appreciated how important drivers were, and I hope the pandemic has done something to address that.”