As if PPE protocols, engineer shortages and components supply issues weren’t already enough to contend with, catering equipment service companies fear staff won’t be able to fulfil vital jobs if the fuel crisis doesn’t ease soon.
With many petrol station forecourts running dry, and others clogged up with queuing motorists, service firms are growing increasingly concerned about their ability to keep vehicles on the road.
Derek Maher, managing director at Essex-based warewashing maintenance specialist Crystaltech, said that while it was going about business as usual, technicians in some parts of the country had struggled to fill up.
“We only have a couple of engineers in the South and South West who have been unable to find stations with diesel and have returned home. I’m in the same region today and can confirm that whilst unleaded is easily available, all of the sites that I have passed do not have diesel.
“London is also extremely difficult but most engineers live on the outskirts and have managed to find fuel at some point. We are not experiencing any problems in Wales and Scotland.”
Maher said the bigger issue was the knock-on effect that the crisis is having on the road network, rather than the immediate availability of fuel itself.
“Some queues are causing major jams on the road which in turn is having an impact on attendance and delaying our response at a time when staffing issues in pubs and restaurants mean that many service calls are for a rapid response. Delivery of spare parts and equipment to our engineers is also being delayed which is also impacting our performance.”
Bedfordshire-based commercial kitchen outfit Advance Group said it was taking extra care when planning engineer routes but warned this could ultimately have implications for the reactive nature of its business.
Operations director, Ryan Yeates, said: “As it stands, I can’t see a way to reduce the risk and sadly the team are becoming unproductive by having to queue in excess of an hour just to fill up. We have, however, removed restrictions on filling up at higher priced places, for example motorway services that we normally try to stay clear of due to the high pence per litre.
“But given the unprecedented situation it’s more a case of fill up where you can rather than at your local supermarket pump. I think as an industry we have faced enough challenges so hopefully this one is resolved quickly.”
Lee Wilmot, managing director of Cambridgeshire-based Rational Technical Services, said it has so far been able to mitigate any serious impact but the fuel crisis did almost jeopardise one major job this week.
“We struggled to get fuel locally for a planned install on Tuesday in London and were at the point of cancelling. Only after visits to several petrol stations were we able to get enough for the round trip.”
Rational Technical Services operates several hybrid company vehicles, which has helped to relieve some of the pressure by giving it the capacity to transport staff to the office if required.
Wilmot said the longer it goes on, the more strain it will place upon the sector: “Speaking with the service partner network, they have, like most people, encountered long waits at fuel stations and struggled to get enough fuel for their daily assigned jobs, which has caused some delays in getting to sites at the agreed SLA time. So far we have been able to meet our commitments to our customers but we very much hope the situation is resolved quickly without any further disruption.”
Wiltshire-based electrical and refrigeration engineer firm Total QSR has added extra manpower to its five regional service teams in recent months, which has meant engineers are generally driving shorter distances than before, while its automated job management system ensures the closest engineer is dispatched to any job that comes up.
It has also benefited from engineers working with its service station customers on the motorways as it has noticed better availability of fuel in these locations.
But marketing manager Joanne Herridge said the shortage was still posing a challenge for engineers. “Even with all of these measures we have had instances of engineers having to travel and wait to find available fuel when their tanks are low, which sadly has resulted in time wasted in these instances.”
Northamptonshire-based kitchen maintenance provider Marren Group said it, too, was still managing to fulfil its obligations with customers, but technical director Kane Needs warned the situation could become desperate for the industry if interventions don’t come soon.
He said: “Our engineers are still managing to fill up their vans and attend the same number of service calls as normal. But we hope it doesn’t last too long otherwise the ramifications will soon begin to send shockwaves across all sectors – public and private.”
Hobart Service has a fleet of 100 service technicians nationwide, attending hundreds of installation, maintenance and service appointments each day.
Operations director Christian Hampshire said that careful planning from its technicians and internal teams has been key and while finding fuel has not been easy it has managed to do so with minimal disruption to business.
“We continuously optimise the routing for the field team to reduce as much travel time as possible,” he said. “This helps towards reducing our carbon footprint and, most importantly, keeps our customers updated and helps us to continue hitting our service level agreements.”
Simon Carpmael, managing director of Worcestershire-based Sprint Group, said it was wary of adding to the panic by sending its fleet of engineers or delivery drivers to fill up straight away. Instead, it has requested they keep an eye on the situation and refuel as and when they can.
“This seems to have worked well – we’ve had to reschedule a couple of jobs but in those instances our customers have been very understanding. As always, timely, proactive communication is key. We have our fingers crossed that the situation will be over in a few days. Looking at the recent queues, I can’t believe there are many drivers who haven’t filled up!”