THE FTA’S RECENTLY PUBLISHED LOGISTICS REPORT 2016 PAINTS A MIXED PICTURE OF THE SECTOR OVER THE LAST 12 MONTHS, WRITES SEAMUS LEHENY.
Driver shortages, fuel prices and investment in infrastructure all feature as strong concerns in the Logistics Report 2016 from the Freight Transport Association (FTA).
Skills gaps in the industry have continued to cause problems over the last year and the price of oil repeatedly hit the headlines, with Brent crude falling 39% by the end of 2015. In August and September, the forecourt price of diesel was cheaper than petrol for the first time in 14 years but the impact on the industry was dampened by changes in the dollar exchange rate and continuing high fuel duty, which accounts for 75% of the forecourt price.
Much of the latest report is based on an FTA survey of 340 respondents in the UK logistics industry. This suggests the economy is on a gradual upward trend, with high consumer confidence driving up demand for goods and services. But this is being impacted by slowing growth in the emerging economies and China, putting even more onus on the government to create and preserve the UK’s prosperity.
The FTA has identified three key priorities for government from the responses to its survey: investment in road improvements; a cut in fuel duty; and recognition of the vital role that logistics plays in the economy. Failure to invest in expansion at Heathrow – the UK’s only hub airport – is identified in the report as a major risk to the UK economy and one that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency, given that the airport is responsible for 40% of the UK’s imports and exports by value.
A 45,000 shortfall in HGV drivers and serious skills gaps in the engineering field are causing problems for vehicle operators, meanwhile. The road transport industry’s image has been flagged as one factor deterring young people from pursuing careers in logistics but a lack of funding for vocational training, poor roadside facilities for drivers and delays in processing driver medical assessments are also contributory factors.
Just 1% of HGV drivers in the UK are women and the average age of our drivers has risen from 45 in 2001 to 48. Demand for professional drivers, however, remains high – especially with the growth in online shopping – and the FTA has been instrumental in getting government approval for an apprenticeship for HGV drivers as a way of attracting more people into the industry. New qualifications launched by the association for fleet managers will also provide a clear career path and allow those working in the industry to gain nationally recognised, transferable skills.
Carbon reduction is another important issue for the transport and logistics industry and one which the FTA has worked hard to promote. Its Logistics Carbon Reduction Scheme has attracted membership from a number of large companies who are keen to show they are making efforts to decarbonise. The Logistics Carbon Review 2016 shows that members of this free scheme are outperforming others in the industry in this area.
Meanwhile, the Department for Transport’s Low Carbon Truck Trial has put more than 300 gas-powered HGVs on the road with supporting infrastructure – a national refuelling infrastructure is one of the main barriers to greater take-up of new technologies. The DfT launched a Freight Carbon Review early in 2016 to assess the options and barriers.
In terms of road safety, the report shows a 3.5% drop in the number of fatal accidents per billion lorry miles between 2013 and 2014 and a 43% drop compared to a decade earlier, although the overall accident figure rose by 5%, in line with the general increase in accidents for all vehicles.
Other key developments during the year included the removal of the paper driving licence counterpart, which had long been used by operators to check a driver’s entitlements and any endorsements. Unfortunately, the online scheme that replaced it has received much criticism due to initial delays, its use of premium rate phone numbers and a lack of out-of-hours availability to check non-EU registered drivers. It has also been labelled unfit for purpose by some large fleet operators with many drivers.
Access to information was also in the spotlight following the Glasgow fatal accident inquiry, of course, which found that the driver of a dustbin lorry had not declared a medical condition which affected his ability to drive and deliberately misled doctors about his health. Six people died when the lorry mounted the pavement in Glasgow city centre just before Christmas 2014, leading to calls for a review of the medical renewal and application process by DVLA, doctors and the DfT. The General Medical Council issued new draft guidance to doctors in November emphasising their duty to inform the DVLA (or DVA in Northern Ireland) if a driver is medically unfit.
In terms of the economy, the FTA report outlines growth in many sectors. However, the construction sector was more downbeat and house building declined during the year.
Operating costs for a 44-tonne articulated lorry fell by 3% during 2015, meanwhile – the result of rises in some input costs being offset by a drop in fuel prices. All other costs, such as repairs, maintenance and insurance, increased moderately.
Overall, the report paints a picture of a slowly improving economy, albeit one which badly needs the government to invest in infrastructure and implement targeted action to tackle issues such as the skills shortage, if the logistics industry is to be able to operate effectively.