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AUGUST 2021

Jon Stowe: Transport Growth and Challenges

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When you see all the recent media regarding the LGV national driver shortage, and then you see the number of vehicles on our roads and motorways each day, you can quickly appreciate just how large and significant the road haulage industry is to the UK supply chain. Every day it ensures raw materials are delivered to support manufacturing, and that finished products reach shop shelves to keep consumers with essentials such as food and the lifestyle products that have become important to everyday life.

Yet surprisingly, almost all the time, this highly efficient, complex and effective operation is taken for granted by politicians and the public – to the extent that the haulage industry even has a negative image as large dirty, polluting lorries! How many times have you cursed for being slowed down on your journey behind a lorry, or for having to wait a few minutes whilst a delivery vehicle unloads? So yes, we have become a very intolerant society where the ‘knights of the road’ are now perceived by some as a necessary evil... No wonder LGV driving is not an attractive career for school leavers considering their life options!

But whilst that all sounds very depressing, it is to a degree self-inflicted, as the haulage industry remains very fragmented and uncoordinated - making it easy picking for politicians and journalists to provide imbalanced views and reports to the general public. For such an important industry sector, it is disappointing that the various trade bodies cannot provide a united front, and probably the best progress is made within the cold storage sector, where coordinated and consistent support and lobbying comes from the Cold Chain Federation. This is so important for anyone outside of the largest supermarkets and the substantial 3PL logistics companies. Not surprisingly, the government uses these companies as sounding boards to represent the industry on issues and possible solutions. However, their requirements and pressures are often different to smaller operators, as indeed are their solutions, as recently demonstrated in the national LGV driver shortage by the substantial recruitment joining incentives offered by supermarkets and large 3PL’s. Their ability to effectively buy their way out of a crisis is not an option available to smaller enterprises, and makes the issue worse for everyone else as it raises driver expectations and pay rates.

We now work in an arena of ever-increasing legislation within the transport sector with new requirements from April 2022 for transport refrigeration units (TRU’s). This is in addition to increasing road restrictions and charges for LGV vehicles, the more adventurous suggestions of LGV overhead cables to charge electric LGV’s on motorways and alternative fuel sources such as hydrogen cells. All are worthy developments to tackle the severe issue of carbon emission reduction. Still, once again, the approach seems fragmented and not coordinated with the ‘stick’ of increased costs being passed onto haulier’s way before the new technology of environmentally friendly alternatives are available in the marketplace. These only results in increased cost to operate for hauliers, ultimately resulting in increased costs for end consumers through increased price of products purchased!

In the quest for change, it is not all about government policy and legislation. At an operational level, it would be fascinating to know just how many miles and hours (and therefore cost and C02 emission) is caused by restrictive booking in systems at regional distribution centers, the cost of minimizing inventory by frequent small drop deliveries, and the reactiveness to daily demand rather than smoothing across the week or trading period. And that is before you get a coordinated and consistent approach to matching collections with deliveries! There is enormous scope for improvement if only holistic solutions would be contemplated and implemented as appropriate.

Here at ACS&T Logistics, we see this as our key area of focus for our transport operation as we work with many customers and many different transport and cold store operators. It is all about collaboration, primarily for the benefit of our customers, but as is often the case, what is suitable for our customers is often good for cost management and environmental improvement. To illustrate this, one of our many services is a national frozen food consolidation service. Within this activity, we can offer vendor managed inventory, case picking and added value services before being able to create either multi-supplier and/or multi-product pallets for single delivery points or to efficiently manage and deliver small order quantities to the end delivery point, wherever they are in the country. This service not only provides a very cost-effective means of getting small order quantities to customers but also means that the stock for many suppliers is delivered on one vehicle, thereby reducing food miles and carbon emissions. Typically, the vehicle then collects product to bring back to our depot to complete the cycle of efficiency and benefit. That is just one of many ways in which the ACS&T team can support our customers whilst doing the right thing in working collaboratively.

To achieve this, we have an excellent and highly motivated transport team with our drivers working as an integral part of our solutions and activity. However, of course, the current issues of the national LGV driver shortage affect us. In addition, we are not immune to the Covid-19 pandemic and the present self-isolation challenges affecting so many businesses. Still, by keeping focused on our customers and our colleagues and adhering to our values, we can almost always find a solution to the most complex challenges!

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