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Making The Difference – A Small Company Perspective

Brief History

Originally founded as a man and van operation in 1992, Anchor Removals derived the name from the original owner Roy Featherstone who was a sailor. Having hit upon hard times after leaving the navy, he decided to start carrying out small local jobs.

The business grew slowly and organically to a small 3 vehicle company until 2008 when Roy and his partner Rita Greaves decided to retire. They asked Chris Smallwood to take over and the company became a professional furniture relocations outfit and a Limited company in March 2008. With 26 years in the industry at the time, from the most junior rank of porter, Chris became one of the most successful industry problem solvers, going into struggling companies within the Britannia group and restructuring them to flourish and grow. These skills were transferred into Anchor Removals as it became a Limited company in March 2008 and a member of the co-operative moving group Britannia Movers International in 2009.

The Industry

The industry is some 200 years old known as the furniture relocations, storage and overseas relocations industry. We are an eclectic mix of man and van (under VAT threshold), private small businesses, co-operatives, larger organisations and private group companies. There are circa 1500 companies UK wide turning over circa £900 million, with one main professional / trade body The British Association of Removers (BAR). Nailing down the number of people employed, or the average earnings is a real challenge as the industry is renowned for “casual”, seasonal, sub-contract and cash in hand resources, making estimates of the actual total employed virtually impossible but it can be assumed there is a minimum of 30,000 industry employees UK wide.

The Problem

“Nailing down the number of people employed, or the average earnings is a real challenge as the industry is renowned for ‘casual’, seasonal, sub-contract and cash in hand resources, making estimates of the actual total employed virtually impossible” – and therein lies the problem.

It is not uncommon to come across employees (operatives) within our sector earning day rates ranging from £50 – £70 per day – irrelevant of hours!! Anecdotally there are large numbers of employees who are on zero-hours terms, with no contracts of employment, no pension rights and more importantly no training – even mandatory training.

We gave in tendering for public sector and private sector formal tenders, they simply were not interested in quality; scoring it 40%, against price 60% rendering quality irrelevant. Worse still there is no formal audit of any successful bidder and this simply encourages the practices that are now rife within our industry.

If I was to hazard a guess, I would say that 50% of all operatives in the furniture relocations sector are zero-hour contracts and on day rates as outlined above.

It doesn’t matter which way you look at this, the behaviour of large swathes of the industry is morally reprehensible. In one recent experience, I claimed myself as the only Living Wage employer in the UK as recognised by the Living Wage Foundation. Interestingly enough the vociferous response I got from employers taking offence at my remarks exemplified the problem, they thought I meant the minimum wage – they were unable to distinguish between the two!!

As a former NED (non-executive director) of the BAR and having actively mixed with moving company owners and senior management for 30 years, there is an age-old inertia within the industry to value itself and their employees at their true worth. Employees for their part are in general academic underachievers and lack the educational wherewithal to fight for their rights. The net result is that hard-working, committed individuals, with genuine skills and industry specialist knowledge, find themselves relying on food bank support, often deep in debt and reliant on cash in hand payments from secondary jobs or even main jobs. To add insult to injury, this occupation by its very nature creates unpredictable hours of work, putting extraordinary physical, mental, emotional and personal demands on the individuals. This in itself leads to alcohol, drug and physical abuse, marital breakdown, family stress and mental illness.

The Solution

There is a solution to this and it is surprisingly simple in concept, more difficult in practice, but more than achievable.

To help an industry understand its true value has to come from the very top, the government has to recognise that whilst base cost is important, hidden value is greater in importance and the impact is a financial one that makes the base cost irrelevant – the societal premium!!

Here at Anchor Removals Limited, we have operated a professional moving company that pays the “real” Living Wage and operates NO zero-hours contracts. All employees are in the company pension scheme and whilst we operate a salary scheme, it is not a day rate and staff earn annually the minimum £18720 gross at an average of £9 per hour over 40 hours over 52 weeks!!
Our teams can work upwards of 50 to 60 hours a week peak, but will still be earning the same when working 0 hours off-peak. This creates a secure environment, stable family circumstances, job security as far as we can and a good tax take for the exchequer. We have removed 4 of our 10 employees from an unemployed status and given them a secure job, with an additional 3 taken out of cash in hand (black economy). It is fair to say we are probably one of very few, if not the only within our industry to operate within these parameters.

What do We Need?

  1. We need to educate those at the very top of these companies to understand their legal obligations and have policing in place to incentivise compliance.
  2. We need large Anchor institutions to understand the value of good procurement and the benefits that these can bring.
  3. Good procurement needs to be driven from the top – government policy and strategy needs to be better thought out to understand the hidden impact of good procurement.
  4. Everybody needs to see the benefit of good practice and it is easy to pilot and monitor. Relocation costs to big-ticket companies is a tiny fraction of their overall budgets and yet any “additional” societal premium is even smaller.
  5. Support for small businesses to help them support their staff – better wealth creation, better education for employees, better health support (proactive, not reactive), better training – this can all be encouraged from third parties!!
  6. Pilot and monitor outcomes – use them to demonstrate the societal and other values.

What Are The Benefits?

The benefit to society and people in general of good employment practices within an industry like ours are massive.

  1. Better training leads to better health outcomes reducing the burden on GPs and Primary care.
  2. Better wages leads to better lifestyle choices and family stability, reducing mental illness and easing the burden on the NHS.
  3. Higher earnings lead to higher tax takes.
  4. Higher earnings lead to economic monetary flow of the positive kind, into the local economy.
  5. Better pensions to remove the pension deficit.
  6. Better health education within employment leads to better outcomes on alcohol and drug dependency.

The 2016 CIPD (Chartered Institute for Personal Development) survey reports that the average annual cost of sickness absence per employee is £522.

This represents an average yearly loss of 6.3 working days for each employee. In total, around 140 million days were lost to sickness absence across the UK in 2015.

What is worse is that in our industry there is so little training, so few contracted workers, so little recording of health outcomes that in a £900 million a year turnover industry just how realistic is that report? You could argue that our industry is double that, but let’s agree that our industry is the average.

In 2018 our average sick days per employee was three!! Imagine if within the circa 1500 businesses within our industry we got 10% to follow our lead from their traditional bad practices and we reduced their average sickness by 10% (based on a workforce average of 10 employees) you are talking 150 businesses cutting £7830 in costs to the company alone. Add to this the reduction in costs to the exchequer through benefits, NHS, tax take etc. Now scale it up to increased economic spend and so on and increase the industry impact to 20% or 30% – all achievable targets and you have yourself a huge social benefit!!

The Choice is Yours

In the end, the power lies with the Government, but Anchor institutions whose procurement is not governed by regulation can implement this and use the furniture relocations sector as a prototype or pilot to assess if the impact is real!!