Home Services in the United Kingdom

Home Services in the United Kingdom

What are the differences between Home Service Contractors in North America and England?

Just returned to Ontario, Canada, from 3 weeks in Scotland and England. I can't help noticing the many similarities - and a few glaring differences - between service providers on either side of the Atlantic.

First, the most obvious differences:

All four countries in the United Kingdom drive on the left, which means that steering wheels are on the right. Contractors almost exclusively use vans instead of pickup trucks, so sliding cargo doors are on the left side of the vehicle not the right.

This means the layout of van interiors is different to that commonly found in vans or more frequently trucks with enclosed cargo beds used by North American contractors.

Service and transport vehicles are generally smaller in Great Britain for two reasons:

  • High vehicle operating costs.
  • Narrow roads and limited parking space.

Vehicle operating costs are high because of high fuel prices which at up to #1.15 a litre for petrol (gas) and a few pence more or less for diesel were almost double the cost of our gas at $0.97 a litre.

Vehicle registration and insurance costs for commercial vehicles are high. Registration or licensing increases with engine size, this means very few V8 or V6 engines in small or mid size delivery vans.

The majority of commercial - and privately owned cars are diesel powered. Modern, small turbocharged diesel engines are more efficient and longer lasting than their petrol powered equivalents. My brother runs a fleet of Mercedes and Iveco vans with 4 cylinder turbo diesel engines for his mobile vehicle service business. These give him well over 30 mpg or better than 9 litres /100km when loaded with a ton of tools, equipment and spares.

They are not as fast as V8 powered cargo vans, but have no difficulty keeping up with traffic or maintaining the 70mph (120kph) motorway speed limit.

Speeding on UK roads has expensive consequences, there are thousands of cameras on major roads. A system of camera recorded average speeds is used, this means that drivers have to be aware of their speed at all times, not just when seeing a camera or police car. Using electronic overhead signs on motorways, speed limits and camera settings can be adjusted remotely to allow for traffic density or accidents.

Parking along narrow British roads is a nightmare. In most suburbs, villages and many industrial areas, vehicles are parked with 2 wheels up the kerb on the sidewalk leaving insufficient space for two vehicles to pass. However most drivers are observant and courteous, with one pulling into a space to allow oncoming vehicles to pass.

There were many time when I was glad I was not in a dually pickup!

One good benefit for drivers and vehicle repair service vehicles is the proliferation of lay-byes on highways and major roads. Many of these can accommodate 4 or 5 large transport trucks for roadside repairs or drivers rest periods. Some have porta potties, most have garbage bins and some have picnic tables and benches.

There were many European vehicle brands not seen in Canada; Renault, Peugeot, Alfa Romeo, Skoda, Seat, Citroen, Vauxhall. Custom and modified vehicles - the 6 wheel Landrover in the side picture being a good example. It was good to see, Aston Martin, Lotus, Rolls Royce, Morgan, Lambourghini, Ferrari and Maserati cars rarely seen here.

A few other differences:

Fewer articulated transport truck & tractor combinations, more rigid or straight trucks called "lorries".

For electricians, 220 volt domestic current with 3 pin plugs and switches on all outlets. Light switches are down in the on position, the opposite to here.

Few basements because, most winters, the ground does not freeze.

Most houses and commercial buildings heated with boilers and hot water circulated through radiators.

Similarities for plumbers, electricians and other Home Services Contractors.

Most contractors I spoke to had similar complaints to their North American counterparts.

  • Excessive regulation and too much "red tape"
  • High operating costs and narrow profit margins
  • Ineffective traditional advertising using "old media"
  • Not enough time to use social media to promote business
  • Time lost on to traffic delays on crowded roads
  • Difficulty in finding and motivating employees.

Typical service calls included:

  • Clogged Toilets
  • Blocked Drains
  • Wiring Problems
  • Leaking Faucets

Many people I spoke to hoped that "Brexit" the recent vote to leave the EU would improve conditions for contractors and small businesses, but were concerned that the economy might suffer in the short term.

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