Logistic sector: Coping and coming out of lockdown
Chris Yarsley, policy manager at the Freight Transport Association (FTA), on how the logistics sector has been coping, and how business are restarting after lockdown.
How has the logistics sector managed during the Covid-19 crisis?
Overall it has been very tough for the industry, although it depends upon which sector of the economy you operate in.
For instance, those working in parcel delivery and the food retailers have seen a growth in business – they have reported to us that it has been better than Christmas for longer than the normal Christmas boom period, and as a result have been trying to recruit extra drivers. On the other side, some sectors have seen drivers furloughed.
However, we are now seeing some movement as demand for services starts to increase, for instance in the construction sector which has now restarted. We’ll also see the impact of non-essential shops re-opening from June 15. One thing is sure though, the shakedown will be hard and tough.
This has been exceptional – a global shutdown.
When it first happened we needed to look to the regulatory framework to make sure certain things happened, such as the relaxation in drivers’ hours and extensions to vehicle MoTs. This was an immediate ask from the industry to help them cope with the cliff edge and we received positive replies from Government.
Do you think the crisis will fundamentally change the logistics sector?
In some ways, yes. For instance, we have spent years talking with local authorities about issues such as clean air zones and local transport plans. These discussions have always included ‘working from home’, but until Covid-19 this was a theoretical concept.
Now, it is here and happening. If you’ve got a spare room at home and don’t want to pay £4,000 a year to commute into an office in London, perhaps you won’t now. This could change the nature of distribution.
Shopping has also seen shifts. Not only has there been a move away from going to the shops in favour of home delivery, but the supermarkets are reporting the return of the ‘big weekly shop’, rather than people popping in as and when to pick up food for dinner. This has obviously been driven by the hassle of getting into supermarkets now with the restriction on numbers in store at any one time.
I think we really need to wait for six months to assess how much this will change the economy and people’s shopping habits. However, we know that some firms won’t exist after this and may be bought up by investors who spy an opportunity – that’s the nature of a free market economy.
What measures should the Government implement to help businesses deliver their goods and services?
We’ve already achieved some wins in this area, notably with the extended driver hours and MoT extensions. But we’ve also succeeded in getting freight drivers classified as ‘essential workers’, meaning they could still go out to work during lockdown.
Another area we saw success was in getting Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to re-issue the guidance he had sent to local authorities relating to traffic management. This guidance was intended to advise councils on how to improve parking and cycling allocations in towns and cities to cater for the increased number of people commuting by car, on foot or by bicycle because they did not want to (or could not use) public transport.
When this guidance was issued, there was no mention of freight in it and there were serious implications in terms of reduced access to road space and road closures (as seen in London and Birmingham). This would have made deliveries and loading/unloading of vehicles to shops potentially difficult. We spoke to Government and stressed the need to not let local authorities close their means of deliveries.
We also asked for the flexible furlough scheme so hopefully there won’t be mass redundancies – this will allow businesses to plan better.
What advice do you have for those businesses looking to restart fleets and operations?
We have produced a guide in association with the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) which focuses on restarting businesses. The Good Practice Guide for Covid-19 shares practical advice from members on how transport operators and logistics businesses can restart their operations safely, effectively and quickly as the nation emerges from lockdown.
Designed to be used in conjunction with the Government guidance on safer workplaces, the document covers key considerations including risk assessments; social distancing in the workplace; cleaning of the workplace; and PPE and face coverings. This guide is free and in it we have pulled together examples of good practice from members who have been working throughout the pandemic.
Has the crisis altered the public’s understanding of the importance of the sector to the country’s functioning?
Yes, I think it has. As people are now more likely to be at home, they are more likely to see a delivery driver – they recognise that these people are out there working 24/7 to keep the country going. We hope that some of this recognition remains six months down the line, when perhaps people might be moaning about the number of lorries on the road. But we are thankful the country has recognised their efforts.
Where can businesses go to get more guidance from the FTA?
As well as our Good Practice Guide, the FTA offers a range of services to help businesses, from advice on compliance to our shop and member advice centre.
Find out more at www.fta.co.uk