With the days of State handouts to self-employed business owners seemingly over, they now face challenging times.
It is interesting to see how the policy towards Covid infection differs between organisations. Schools and colleges tend to defer to government guidelines, if you feel too unwell to attend then don’t, but otherwise attend as normal. In comparison, there is evidence of significant change in private industry. Some organisations, having invested in providing their employees with desk chairs, laptops etc for home working, are positively encouraging staff to stay at home. If they catch Covid while at home and it affects their ability to work, it is marked as a sick day, otherwise, it is just another working day from home. It is not unusual to hear of some large organisations giving up 50% of their building infrastructure, only to invite staff into the office when there are well-being reasons not to stay at home. It may surprise some to know that some City Council employers started incorporating 4-day working weeks with reduced office capacity pre-Covid times.
And then we have our driving instructors in the UK, working in 1:1 fairly enclosed working environments, who could now be sat next to a customer with or without Covid – there is no legal obligation to disclose anything. All that we can say for certain is, unlike private industry where fully paid sick leave entitlement of 20+ days per year is not unusual, if a driving instructor doesn’t work, they do not earn – which is quite a sobering thought when the UK is in the current economic climate.
The government is desperate to try and keep control of inflation. It is no coincidence that when the government is desperate to cap inflation, fuel prices continue to decline from eye-watering levels only a few months ago. A typical driving school car running on unleaded would cost £80 to fill up in those days of peak fuel prices, whereas the more normal cost to fill the tank is £50. Remember, a full-time driving instructor will often fill up a driving school car 2 – 3 times per week.
But it is all the other increased costs that impact consumers. A 2L bottle of sparkling water that used to be 17p is now nearer to 30p. A 25kg bag of water-softening salt tablets that used to be £16 is now £24. You will notice these are not inflationary increases in the region of 10%. The same can be said of utility bills; despite global pricing dramatically reducing in recent times, we still appear to be suffering inflation-busting additional costs here in the UK.
And so it seems many have had enough. Teachers, nurses, railway staff and driving examiners have decided that now is the time to take positive action and strike. Teachers have been taking in real-terms salary cuts for several years now where their salary increases simply do not match inflation.
The time when the financial squeeze will really start to take effect is when higher interest rates for mortgages begin to increasingly feed into the population when their current terms expire and need to be updated. If anyone is thinking it is tough now, just wait until the mortgage payments start to significantly increase – the times of 2008 may soon be with us again, only this time, perhaps even more severe.
Where does this leave us driving instructors? Well, the “Pastime” among us, will probably be tempted to reduce their pricing if the customer base starts to feel the pinch. In 2009, a time of deep recession, £5 driving lessons were advertised by ADI’s who really just plod along in the industry. But for the driving school owners who rely on their income to buy weekly food shopping, pay house bills, finance holidays and want to be able to survive should they get ill, then yes, these coming months do represent a threat.
To be able to continue paying these increased consumer costs as well as accommodate sickness and holiday breaks, it is essential that the self-employed demand a price that reflects these changing times. A recent video [3m 48s] on the BIG TOM Franchise channel explored the 17% decline in registered driving instructors in the UK over the last 10 years, but the figure could easily be surpassed if driving training pricing is not significantly increased to protect driving school businesses. It sounds counter-intuitive to put up pricing when the economy takes a downturn, but the point being made here is that overall pricing, across the board, is increasing (in many cases at over-inflationary levels) and driving training pricing needs to also match those increases just to make businesses sustainable.
Clearly, consumers will make choices based on perceived value and as business owners, ADI’s need to think good and hard about how they represent value to their customers. It is unlikely that driving instructors who charge customers £250 to provide the pupil with a car and a driving test slot in a town outside of their own, will continue to be perceived as good value for money (not that it ever did represent value in reality).
There will be regional differences for sure, but £30 driving lessons really do represent the pricing of a “Pastime” driving instructor. To live a life that has anything close to matching the benefits being received by the vast majority of the working public, driving instructors owe it to themselves to be charging £45-£50 an hour as a minimum.