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Santa’s other helpers: How Inverness courier firm M and H Carriers delivers Christmas for thousands

We saw how the firm handles 15,000 parcels a day and learned the truth about excess delivery charges.

Scrum of warehouse staff over parcels on conveyor belt.
Crews of well-drilled staff make sure parcels get to where they need to go. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

With Christmas shopping increasingly taking place online instead of on bustling High Streets, the pressure is on couriers more than ever to deliver.

Inverness-based M&H Carriers is currently at the limit delivering Black Friday purchases across the north.

From an average of 10,000 parcels a day the rest of the year, the fleet of 170 vehicles will handle up to 15,000 packages daily in the coming weeks leading up to the big day.

But it’s not just parcels they deliver to customers. They also work with businesses across the Highlands and Moray to deliver their goods to the Central Belt. This includes vans full of Christmas turkeys worth up to £300 each.

Parcels speeding off the back of a HGV lorry on a conveyor belt.
Thousands of parcels pass through the Inverness depot to couriers as part of Christmas preparations. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

It’s a huge workload that pushed the nearly 300-strong staff across delivery hubs in Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow and 10 smaller depots across Moray and the Highlands to the limit.

But how do they do it? The Press and Journal went behind the scenes at the M&H Carriers courier delivery depot in Inverness as the Christmas parcels rush began to find out.

  • We saw how huge shipments were sorted to get them to your door quickly.
  • We uncovered the truth behind some of the excess delivery charges to the north.
  • And we learned about the pressure on drivers to deliver Christmas for thousands.

Early rush for Christmas shopping

Huge HGVs carrying hundreds of parcels roll into the M&H Carriers depots throughout the morning and afternoon.

In the coming weeks about 14 will arrive every day, up from the four or five that will pull up the rest of the year.

Managing director Fraser MacLean has worked in the industry in the Highlands for the last 25 years, initially with AJG Parcels, which he sold to Menzies, before buying M&H Carriers in 2019.

Fraser MacLean in black jumper leaning on boxes in warehouse.
Fraser MacLean, managing director of M&H Carriers. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

He said: “It started to get busy in the week before Black Friday this year.

“It was quiet in October. I don’t know if people were maybe saving their money and waiting for the deals.

“It meant the drivers were quiet but we just told them to wait and then it’s gone boom.

“It’s a very busy time for us. We have aa six-week peak of handling about 50% more than what we normally do.

“It’s very busy for the staff. We don’t allow any holidays at this time of year but we do things for them like bring in food vans. We have bonus payments for working extra Saturdays.”

Map showing M&H Carriers sites across Scotland.
M&H Carriers has depots located strategically across the north. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

The 5 steps from clicking to delivering

  1. Customer orders parcel from website.
  2. Parcel is collected by courier and taken to a central hub, usually in Birmingham.
  3. Packages taken by lorry to M&H Carriers delivery hub in either Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee or Glasgow.
  4. Staff manually sort parcels from conveyor belt for shipments to regional depots.
  5. Parcel is out for delivery less than 48 hours after being ordered.

‘Excess delivery charges don’t make sense’

Excess delivery charges are added by many sellers to the north, purportedly to cover the cost of delivering to rural parts of the mainland and the islands.

However, Mr MacLean told the Press and Journal the fees are not passed to the courier firm and many of the charges added bear no resemblance to the real cost of delivering to the communities.

Forklift driver with wrapped up pallet on front.
Forklift driver Craig Fraser moving bulky items that need a two-person team to deliver. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

The businessman has campaigned for change during two visits to Westminster – but says he was met with “ignorance” from MPs.

Mr MacLean explained some added charges were understandable but not to the extent that some charge.

He said: “The difficulty is with the proportion. If it was £4.95 to the rest of the country and £6.95 to here then I think that would be understandable.

Wide view of warehouse with conveyor belt, parcels and cages.
Parcels are sorted into different areas for regional depots. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

“What you tend to see though is £6.95 to here and free elsewhere – that just isn’t right.

“We have a contract with DX, which do all the unusual outsize items, and it will be a bit more expensive to deliver a canoe from Nottingham to Inverness, Tain or Argyll.

“What I tried years ago was to try and spread the cost of delivering to places like the islands across places it was cheaper to go to, like Inverness, but it didn’t work.

“What we do ourselves is work with local courier companies in places like Skye and elsewhere.”

Pressure on Inverness courier drivers to deliver parcels

Households can be demanding when it comes to expecting their parcel to arrive at their door within their delivery slot.

It’s understandable. Arrangements can be made to be in the house especially and everyone is eager to have that special gift safely stashed away.

When the Press and Journal visited M&H Carriers in Inverness during the Christmas rush, one Elgin courier was loaded up 325 parcels for the day – and had already dropped off 101 of them by 11.30am.

Warehouse worker stacking carboard boxes smiling at camera.
Iain Cartwright stacking products ready to be delivered. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Mr MacLean believes the industry doesn’t get the respect it deserves from many.

He said: “Expectations are higher than they’ve ever been. I thought coming out of Covid things would have changed, but I haven’t seen it.

“As an industry we didn’t slow down, the pressure was on us even more as a lifeline service.

“Our drivers are out in all weather, go to sometimes extreme lengths and sometimes if there’s a road closure or whatever there’s nothing you can do and we miss that slot.

“The reaction we get from some people though is ‘I just want my stuff’. I get quite annoyed about it.”