09 December 2020

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Q&A with Elizabeth de Jong, policy director of Logistics UK, on a crucial year ahead for the sector.

Looking back over the year, how has the logistics industry coped in general? What have been the big learnings?

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As a sector, logistics is a vital, adaptable and efficient contributor to the effective operation of businesses right across the UK’s economy. After the initial impact of panic buying at the start of the pandemic in March/April, the industry’s ability and willingness to adjust delivery patterns, take on additional work and support other businesses in the sector meant that shop supplies soon returned to normal levels and businesses could keep on trading. 

Businesses from across industry worked together to ensure loads were delivered, either by pooling driver resources, utilising unused capacity to share loads, or refitting vehicles in some cases to ensure that customers received the goods and services they required. 

It has been very positive to see logistics finally acknowledged as a key sector, with staff designated as key workers to ensure that supplies of goods and services could continue to move freely to where they’re most needed. Rather than existing as a facilitator alone, logistics now has recognition as a vital cog in the efficient function of the economy.

How much busier has the sector been in key areas throughout 2020?

The sector showed huge resilience with some companies needing to accommodate swings of more than 50% in their volumes during the first lockdown, but our industry survey reports a positive business outlook for the next six months and good financial health overall. 

One particularly strong area of growth has been the home delivery market – during lockdown, as footfall dropped in high streets, the UK became increasingly reliant on van deliveries at home, with volumes increasing by November to 62% above the level recorded in March. The use of vans and other ‘last mile’ delivery mechanics, including delivery bikes and on-foot couriers, looks set to continue into 2021.

Logistics businesses will continue to adapt working practices during this second wave of the pandemic to meet the demands of consumers, particularly as they look to purchase Christmas gifts online.

What would you like the Government to do on order to help your industry operate as best as it can?

Our industry is growing and needs to recruit staff, especially HGV drivers. Government support for retraining those who have lost jobs during the pandemic could focus on helping them to gain commercial driving qualifications.

What is the current thinking/policy planning regarding Brexit and the looming trade deal deadline?

Logistics UK has been advising its members to prepare for the new trading relationship with the EU for some time, with many new processes involved in customs declarations that will be needed whether or not a deal is struck with the EU.

Many deadlines have slipped and been reassessed over the past few months, but time really is now running out if the treaty is to be ratified in time for the New Year. Business needs and deserves certainty over the terms in which the economy will operate from January 1. 

Logistics is agile and flexible but is running out of time to make the necessary transition to new trading arrangements.

What about the impact of the announcement banning sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030? Is this realistic?

We are keen to support our members in shifting to alternatively-fuelled vehicles in time for the 2030 deadline and we are very active in helping both industry and Government navigate this area of change, for instance through our Environmental Working Group and recent Future Logistics Conference. 

The upcoming ITT Hub event in June/July 2021 will give our members the chance to see and experience new vehicles for themselves, as well as provide a comprehensive conference programme to discuss the issues concerned. 

To enable operators to shift to new technologies, it is vital that they are supported with policy packages from Government, which could include an upgraded EV charging network and potential scrappage schemes for conventionally-fuelled vehicles. 

Logistics is flexible and adaptable and has already adopted new, cleaner vehicles across the fleet – the switch to alternative fuels will be another step in the industry’s journey to net zero.

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