In Perspectives we ask the most insightful voices in infrastructure for their take on the issues and challenges facing the industry.
This month we talk to Logistics UK’s Multimodal Policy Manager, Zoe McLernon. Zoe has an extensive political background having been a senior caseworker in the House of Commons for several years before entering the political arena as a councillor representing Bicester South at Bicester Town Council. Zoe joined Logistics UK in 2019 and has been vocal in urging the government to release more information on its Freeport vision.
We asked Zoe about the challenges facing the logistics industry, from COVID-19 to Brexit.
How has Logistics UK responded to the challenges posed by the ongoing global pandemic?
As the business group representing the logistics sector, the team at Logistics UK has been focusing its efforts on supporting our members through the global pandemic. We have been engaging with government ministers across departments and at all levels to represent our members and ensure vital operations can continue; safeguarding the continuity of supply chains is key. Using a strong evidence base – obtained from our own weekly surveys – we have been focusing our attention on issues such as financial support for the sector, testing and regulatory difficulties, and ensuring workforces are protected while continuing to do their jobs. Each mode of transport and industry served by logistics has been affected differently and, with our unique position as the business group representing all facets of the sector, we are able to stand up for all parts of it.
What do you believe will be key to the UK’s recovery in the post-lockdown age?
As an enabler of economic and social activity, logistics has been critical to maintaining our everyday lives during the crisis and will be vital to economic recovery, and eventual long-term growth. For businesses to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic effectively, we want to see government offer continued financial support, via schemes such as Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), and to be flexible in its approach so businesses are able to access the funding they need.
Our members would also like to see the government increase its investment into transport infrastructure; in recent years, the UK’s quality of roads, efficiency of air transport, train and seaport services have decreased noticeably. Effective transport infrastructure is vital to economic and societal functioning, in addition to the international competitiveness of the UK.
What changes will we see in a post-coronavirus world?
While it is challenging to predict the shape of the post-coronavirus world, we expect to see consumer uneasiness around international travel continue in the short to medium term. This will present an issue for air freight as 60% of UK’s air cargo imports and exports are transported in the bellyhold of passenger planes.
Where (road, rail, air, sea) would Logistics UK like infrastructure investment to be prioritised and why?
Providing a greener alternative to other modes of transport, rail freight is a popular choice for many logistics businesses, contributing £870 million to the UK economy. To transition rail to a zero-emission transport mode – while improving infrastructure for rail freight operators – we would like to see a full electrification of the rail network. Alongside this, there are several smaller but important enhancement schemes we need to see come to fruition to improve rail connectivity to ports and roads; this is vital for intermodal supply chains.
Moving onto air travel, overcoming capacity constraints will be key to the growth of air cargo. At Logistics UK, we support the expansion of Heathrow Airport, and the benefits it will bring regional airports across the UK. In addition, we must be mindful of the positive impact air freight has had during the pandemic and consider how we approach night flying and slot flexibility going forward. Regional airports also need more infrastructure, such as improved road and rail connectivity, to enable operations to grow and we will work with government to deliver a comprehensive, nationwide approach to tackling these limitations.
In the road transport sector, our members want to see improved welfare facilities for drivers, access to secure parking, increased road connections – particularly to ports and airports – in addition to the further development of infrastructure to support the use of Electric Vehicles.
The UK ports industry contributes more £9 billion in GVA (gross value added) to the economy, supporting more than 100,000 jobs for the maritime industry. We need to see a scaling up of the UK’s infrastructure ambitions, including a Green Maritime Fund for sustainable development.
Across all transport modes, inclusive and flexible freeports could lead the way to more opportunities, including fast-tracked planning processes and vital infrastructure to support trade.
Has the current crisis pushed environmental concerns down the industry’s priority list?
While the current crisis has meant our members have needed to focus their attention on other aspects of their work, decarbonisation remains a priority. Businesses within the logistics sector continue to work hard to reduce their environmental impact and make supply chains as green as possible.
How is the logistics industry readying to meet the UK’s net-zero pledge by 2050?
From transitioning to alternatively fuelled vehicles to adopting a more intermodal approach, there are endless ways businesses are readying themselves for a zero-emission future. At Logistics UK, we have been helping businesses reduce the emissions from their operations via the Logistics Emission Reduction Scheme (LERS), a voluntary initiative designed to record and reduce emissions from road freight operations. When compared to the rest of the industry as a whole, member average emissions are close to 13 per cent lower per vehicle. For more information, please visit lers.org.uk
How is Logistics UK preparing for the UK’s Brexit deadline and what do you believe is the biggest challenge facing the logistics sector throughout the Brexit negotiations?
At Logistics UK, we want to make sure every one of our members is ready for the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. To do so, we are in regular contact with government departments and ministers to ensure the information needed for a smooth transition is accessible and passed on to the industry. We are holding regular Brexit webinars, alongside our Brexit ‘enews’ supplements and engaging closely with our Customs and Trade Council members to ensure goods continue to enter and leave the UK from January 2021. We were successful in our request of government for an ‘implementation period’ beyond the current transition period, and hope that this will give the sector more time to prepare and bed into the post-Brexit trading environment.
Staffing and resources will be a fundamental challenge for the sector; having the funding and capacity to address the new operating models will be key to success.
Are there reasons for the logistics sector to be optimistic about the future?
Of course. The logistics sector has helped to keep the country moving during the pandemic and will continue to be vital in a post- EU Exit world. There are plenty of opportunities for the sector to grow and lead the way in many areas, including trade and decarbonisation. Highlighting the importance of logistics during a global crisis and the hard work of key workers during this time means we can embrace opportunities in recovery to support, shape and strengthen the logistics industry.