Brexit challenges together with digital transformation / disruption were the two main topics of conversation at Multimodal 2018, the annual UK’s freight and logistics conference held at the NEC in Birmingham this month.
EU customs union uncertainty
The degree of uncertainty around Brexit, and the Customs Union in particular, is making it impossible for transport and logistics firms to prepare ahead for leaving the European Union next March. There is also increasing pressure to confirm the current (conditional) transition period – 29 March 2019 to 31 December 2020 – even though the extension will still only offer a relatively short timeframe of 20 months for the industry to make operational plans.
At a seminar on ‘Brexit – the UK, pan-European and global implications’, there was frustration that the political situation was leaving no time to change systems or adapt to changes, particularly at border points such as Dover. James Hookham, Deputy Chief Executive of the Freight Transport Association (FTA) said the lack of clarity around truck permits and recognition of driver licences, for example, could be ‘a showstopper if we don’t get this right’ and also accused the government of underestimating how the country works in terms of supply chains.
The squeeze at Dover in particular could be significant and costly. Richard Christian, Head of Policy and Communications at the Port of Dover pointed out that $122 billion (17%) of the UK’s trading goods are handled by Dover each year through a narrow gateway to Europe, including perishables such as fresh meat, fruit and vegetables.
“That’s 180km of freight every day with an EU-bound lorry processed every two minutes and non-EU taking 20 minutes. At the moment, only 1-2% of traffic is non-EU but post-Brexit everything is non-EU. Somehow we have to get 20 minutes down to two minutes. If we go even two minutes over on that process, there will be a perpetual freight queue of 17 miles…”
Digital disruption and other challenges
Another key topic of discussion at Multimodal was how new technology is transforming (as well as disrupting) logistics. Despite threats from Amazon and Uber entering the market, however, there was a lot of positivity from panel experts over the opportunities offered by the digitalisation of freight and logistics.
Other challenges facing the industry in 2018 included a lack of drivers, how to attract skilled employees and the younger generation into the industry, the need for more warehousing space and the high pace of change.
International Forwarding Director Roy Baker, who attended the show on day two, said: “The big issues facing transport and logistics from our perspective as an independent forwarder are the necessity to ensure that we are Brexit-compliant in whatever form that may take and the impact of digitalisation on our relationships with customers and suppliers. It is also difficult to attract new talent to the industry and the introduction of the new Freight Forwarding Apprenticeship scheme is a welcome development.”
Andy Grubb, Sales Director, International Forwarding, added: “Visiting Multimodal is always a good opportunity to catch up and network with our suppliers. Like many at the event, we are keeping a close eye on Brexit changes as a freight forwarder offering daily services to and from Europe, and also on opportunities through digitalisation. For example, we’re happy to offer a two-hour ETA window on our UK pallet deliveries through our platinum membership of Palletways.”
“We’re also currently going through the hiring process and looking for new sales talent, ” said Andy. “It’s not an easy process to find people with industry knowledge and the right mix of skills, and as an industry the skills gap is something we need to find solutions to.”
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