Charlie Elphicke MP explained that key stakeholders in the logistics sector were already coming together to discuss the Government’s Brexit strategy and to ensure a straight forward transition, especially regarding customs checks at ports and other freight terminals:
“The industry as everyone knows, and the country, faces a huge potential challenge with Brexit. Together with the Road Haulage Association, the Port of Dover, Euro Tunnel, ferry companies, AB Ports, the Port of Calais, the Port of Antwerp, and many others have got together to look at how we can manage to ensure that trade continues to flow smoothly after we leave the European Union”.
He continued, on the importance of ensuring that there were no bottlenecks holding up the movement of goods through UK ports:
“It’s really important that we are ready for Brexit. Ready on day one. Ready to make sure there are no queues on the roads to the channel ports, through which about 40% of our goods traded with Europe travels”.
Mr Elphicke also stressed the importance of the wider freight transport sector which contributes £96 billion annually to the British economy.
He explained the sector was “Very easy to forget and very important to remember”.
Setting out the size and scope of the UK logistics sector which employs 2.3 million people he said:
“There are 473,000 heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) in the UK today on our roads delivering goods to us. 60% of road freight brings food so that we can eat. Basic things come to our towns, our shops, our homes by lorry”.
The Road Haulage Association, which funds a researcher to work with Mr Elphicke on logistics matters in parliament, was he said “at the forefront of taking the industry forward” and that it had been “raising the profile of the industry; raising the importance of what this industry is about,;the difference it makes to our daily lives”.
He explained that a piece of work he had recently done in collaboration with the Road Haulage Association had: “influenced the Government’s recently published paper on customs and how we are going to manage these issues as we leave the European Union”.
He concluded by saying:
“That is the difference that the Road Haulage Association makes to hauliers; to advocate for this very important industry which is making a huge difference, particularly at this crucial time for our country as we prepare to leave the EU, we want to make sure that it is an enormous success”.
The Road Haulage Association’s Chief Executive Richard Burnett also spoke at the event which he said was all about the next generation and to “showcase the industry as a great career choice”. He said it was crucial to reduce the skills gap in the logistics sector and halt the driver shortage, which he estimated was currently between 45,000 and 50,000 drivers. He also pointed out that the average age of a British HGV driver was 65 and the number of new recruits into the sector is not covering those retiring.
Mr Burnett said the freight transport and logistics sector was the 5th largest industry in the UK and that it represents “one of the most diverse sectors when it comes to career choices.”
Dealing with criticism of the sector for being outdated and heavily polluting, he said:
“Today’s haulage operations are becoming cleaner and are more often than not IT led. Managers, drivers, warehouse staff, technicians, mechanical experts”.
He said the sector offered “Something for everyone regardless of age, gender or circumstance”.
Richard Burnett spoke about the success of the Road to Logistics training programme which has been set up as a not for profit organisation to encourage new talent into the transport and logistics industry from sections of society where individuals need help and support to regain self confidence and independence.
It is has been specifically designed for service veterans, ex-offenders and the long term unemployed. Mr Burnett said the programme offered: “An enormous opportunity to save the Government millions of pounds” and to reduce reoffending and the prison population”.
With Brexit negotiations dominating the UK political agenda Mr Burnett said that the Government needs to ensure that the Treaty of Le Touquet (which deals with border checks at sea ports on both sides of the Channel and the North Sea) is retained.
“Retaining the trust in our border controls is a critical part in that [Brexit] process. It must also ensure fluid movement across borders especially at Calais. Failure will result in chaos at both sides of Dover and Calais”
Burnett warned that given the volume of lorries was so high at approximately 2,000 vehicles per day, with additional customs checks nearby approach roads to UK ports could be: “paralysed with HGVs awaiting processing”
Heading off criticism of the road haulage industry over vehicle emissions, Mr Burnett said that emissions had fallen by a third in the last three years and continued to fall. He said the Government should introduce a cost effective scrappage scheme to encourage hauliers to replace older Euro 5 vehicles with the newer, cleaner Euro 6 model. He suggested that new clean air zones must be “carefully phased in” and focussed only on areas with real air quality concerns.
The event was attended by MPs and peers from all parties including Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Roads, Local Transport and Devolution Jesse Norman MP and representatives from a number of leading UK haulage firms.