What were the talking points this week as the Economy prepares to reignite

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Next Monday will hopefully see the first phase of a five stage plan the will evoke the economy from its slumber, like the legendary Dutchman, Rip Van Winkle, who fell asleep for twenty years, missing the American Civil War. Will we have some difficulty in recognising our surroundings and what will we have missed? Who knows. However, there were some other talking points from the week, that come to mind, such as:

  • Where is Minister Ross?
  • The Road Haulage Association’s Haulier Survey
  • Are UK Bus & Coach Operators faring better or worse than Irish Operators?
  • As Ryanair plans to return to the skies, could the airlaine become the anchor tenant at Heathrow airport?
  • Real time information on COVID-19.

Former national journalist Shane Ross arrived in the Dail with the promise of turning the place inside out with reforms and real action. With an early appointment as Minister for Transport, it looked like he might achieve this. Unfortunately his record in passenger and road transport has not all been that spectacular, with little meaningful action, particularly in the private sector – just ask the trade associations’ reps. His record in the other parts of the portfolio may have been noteworthy, he certainly seemed to take his attendance at sporting events seriously. In this ‘Emergency’ we find ourselves in needed a strong Minister at the Cabinet table more than ever. There was little justification for the Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness Test (CVRT) Centres to close, it certainly seemed not to be favoured by the Road Safety Authority (RSA). This is only one example that we know of, when a Minister asking tough questions and banging the table when necessary. Let us hope the next Minister for Transport has more enthusiasm.

In the last few days the Road Haulage Association (RHA UK) has published results of a survey undertaken among its memberships. It is likely that the findings reflect the situation in Ireland as both markets are similar. 4,500 companies responded and some of the headline figures are worrying. It paints a grim picture of the road haulage sector overall.

  • 83% of companies say their work has been reduced significantly, 22% say they have no work
  • 88% of companies have seen backloads reduced, 50% have no backloads
  • 31% of carriers asked say they will run out of money in four weeks, 11% say they will last for 12 weeks.
  • 73% of firms have cash flow problems, 13% say they have no current cash flow.
  • 25% of drivers are on temporary lay-off and 46% of trucks are idle.

According to the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT UK) the Bus & Coach industry will need a support package of £65 million per month to support the tourism sector. It is estimated that only 2% of the tour bus fleet is working currently, with no significant improvement expected until 2021. Separately the British Government has issued some guidelines for service buses returning to work. Interestingly, the advice about social distancing is “where possible”. This is in line with the practice across Europe, something we will have to face in Ireland, very soon. Social distancing is not possible in aircraft, neither will it be practical on buses. One of the knock-on effects in the passenger transport sector is a reduction of orders for new vehicles. Optare, Alexander Dennis and Northern Ireland based Wrightbus have stated that orders are down by 75% and are also looking for Government aid.

Never a company to waste a crisis, Ryanair is planning to get back in the air in July, promising a massive seat sale like nothing seen before. One can argue about the sense and reality of all this, but one thing for sure is that it creates a feel good factor, even if it’s just to hear people thinking about going on holidays. It occurred to me from the press statements made by the operators of Heathrow airport on talking about vacant slots and reduced activity at the West London airfield, could indeed make it to the Ryanair boardroom. Could Michael O’Leary swoop in and become a significant carrier at Heathrow? A great prospect and quite possible.

Finally, here are log-in details of a website that provides real-time information about COVID-19, country by country and certainly worth a look – https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries