02 September 2021

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The UK’s logistics industry is facing number of issues which are threatening the supply of goods and services across the country.

From Brexit to the ‘pingdemic’, from driver shortages to Clean Air Zones, there are myriad issues for transport managers to cope with, according to road transport body Logistics UK.

Issue 1: A shortage of skilled drivers…

Recruiting and retaining drivers is proving to be a challenge, especially for HGV class drivers (and has been for a number of years).

It is estimated that the logistics sector is facing a shortage of 90,000 HGV drivers, while getting new drivers on-board is being hampered by a bottleneck of HGV training and testing at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), according to Logistics UK’s policy director Elizabeth de Jong, and "many employers are confused about how to access vital funding in order to recruit and train new workers”.

To counter this, Logistics UK has produced a free guide for employers across the sector. It can be downloaded here.

Issue 2: ...and a lack of HGV training and testing

The Government has pledged to tackle the backlog of testing and training slots being made available by the DVSA – the backlog currently stands at 45,000 tests.

It is good to see the urgent focus placed by Government on increased HGV driver testing as this is the biggest blocker to new entrants entering the workforce,” added de Jong, “but without targets and a workable timeline, this is simply a statement of intent. We need to know how soon the backlog of test passes can be cleared more swiftly, as we estimate at current rates this will take 27 weeks (i.e. until the end of January 2022).

Issue 3: The ‘pingdemic’

The fall-out from Covid-19 will be felt for years to come across all sectors, but the main issue facing logistics at the current time is the ‘pingdemic’ – workers told to isolate because they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive.

While changes to the isolation rules for fully vaccinated workers have now been introduced, there is still the chance for business disruption because of potential exposure to the virus.

Elizabeth de Jong said: "Logistics as a sector is flexible and adaptable and has maintained supplies of everything UK plc needs throughout the pandemic.

Many of our workers operate in isolation and the risk of infection passing between them is very low – however, for those in warehouses and distribution centres, the risk is higher.

Having deemed logistics a ‘key’ industry at the start of the pandemic, the Government should be maintaining this designation and providing a blanket exemption for the industry. This will provide resilience for the UK’s supply chain and prevent unnecessary administration time being wasted.

Issue 4: Clean Air Zones

A host of Clean Air Zones have either launched, or will go live, this year, creating an operational headache for transport managers, says Logistics UK.

Schemes are operating or will operate in Birmingham, Bath, Oxford, Bristol, Portsmouth as well as an extension to the London Low Emission Zone. Manchester is poised to launch its scheme in 2022. All the zones have different criteria and tariffs, so potentially a vehicle delivering in Bath may cost more than the same model operating in Oxford. It’s also worth noting that there are fines of up to £1,000 if a vehicle enters a CAZ incorrectly.

For more information of CAZs, read our article here. 

Issue 5: Potential changes to the London Congestion Charge

Transport for London is consulting on plans to reduce the hours of operation of the scheme, but keeping a higher £15 charge rate at certain times. The move aims to restore the scheme to its pre-pandemic operation, albeit with higher pricing and weekend charging.

Natalie Chapman, Logistics UK’s head of policy - South, said: “We have long campaigned for flexibility surrounding delivery hours to encourage and enable businesses to carry out their deliveries at less congested times to reduce emissions, improve the safety of vulnerable road users and increase operational efficiency. Moving back to the original timings provides additional flexibility to retime deliveries and is supported by our members.

However, we oppose the proposal to retain the higher £15 charge and weekend charging, which simply amounts to an additional tax for logistics businesses who currently have little alternative but to use lorries and vans to keep London stocked with all the goods the population needs.

Issue 6: Brexit

The multitude of issues surrounding Brexit continue to rumble on as the UK and the European Union seek to find a workable solution to the issue of cross-border trade (in particular concerning Northern Ireland).

In terms of logistics, the driver shortage problem needs urgent attention, according to Logistics UK, with a seasonal visa for European HGV drivers the simple way to tackle problem.

The group’s chief executive, David Wells, said: “During the pandemic, all driving tests were suspended. At the same time, 79,000 European logistics workers returned to their home countries – and this, combined with an existing shortage of HGV drivers, has meant that haulage firms are now struggling to recruit new drivers – a problem which will be exacerbated by summer holidays for those who have worked so tirelessly throughout the pandemic.

The Government recently granted temporary visa status for agricultural workers to ensure that important crops are picked and made available for UK consumers. But without temporary visa status for the drivers to move this food to where it is needed, the supply chain will break down at the first hurdle. The two sectors work hand in hand and should be treated in the same way.

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