As negotiations for the UK to leave the EU hopefully draw nearer to some kind of resolution it seems an opportune moment to focus our monthly sector blog on the UK road haulage industry.
First, some facts, published by the RHA (Road Haulage Association).
The sector is the UK’s fifth largest employer, employing 2.54 million people in haulage and logistics, with road haulage being one of several UK sectors facing a skills shortage.
It is an industry worth £124bn GVA to UK economy, with 600,000 Goods Vehicle driving licence holders and 493,600 commercial vehicles over 3.5 tonnes registered in the UK.
89% of all goods transported by land in Great Britain are moved directly by road (the balance not moved by road often needing road haulage to complete journeys to/from ports, airports or rail terminals). This includes 98% of all food and agricultural products, and 98% of all consumer products and machinery transported by road freight.
However, it is a tightly-regulated industry with very narrow margins and many of its customers depend on prompt delivery of consignments based on just-in-time supply chains for both food and manufacturing.
The road haulage industry will face massive changes after Brexit
The key questions facing the industry are what additional paperwork will be needed for drivers, vehicles and goods in transit, whether they are simply picking up containers from ports or needing to travel across borders. What border controls will there be and what regulatory requirements?
For example, currently AEO (also referred to as “trusted trader”) status permits a haulier whose credentials have been officially checked and verified to transport goods across frontiers without physical customs checks of consignments, where they are trusted to simply provide the documentation. What will happen to these after Brexit?
So far, the RHA has provided at least seven checklist updates for UK drivers and haulage companies in just a few months, but the situation is still fluid and the only thing it has been able to say with any certainty is that “ECMT permits will be the only certain access to and from the EU for UK operators after Brexit. These are quota limited permits issued under an old system never designed to deal with the sort of volume of haulage movements that exist between the UK and the EU. For UK operators only about 10% of the market demand can be met by ECMT permits.” Wow, only 10%!
Trailers weighing more than 750Kg will have to be registered for international commercial use, drivers will need an international green card from their insurers and they will also need an international driving permit (IDP).
Then there is the question of what will happen to those qualified non-UK HGV drivers working in the UK and employed by UK hauliers to fill the current skills gap.
The capacity of the ports and their ability to cope if they need to introduce customs and paperwork inspections is also under question. The UK has major import terminals at Dover, Southampton, Felixstowe, Tilbury and Hull, to name the main ones servicing trade with Europe, for which at the moment there is very little information from Government as to what additional facilities they will need to allow for.
Who can forget the fiasco of transport minister Christ Grayling’s failed effort to open up Ramsgate to provide more capacity, not to mention the now-cancelled £13.8m contract to the Seaborne Freight to run a service to Ostend, in Belgium, to alleviate any delays at Dover in case of a no-deal Brexit despite the company having never run a ferry service and having no suitable ships?
It is all very well for the Government to exhort businesses to be prepared for all Brexit eventualities, including a no-deal scenario, but, as the RHA chief executive Richard Burnett warned in early March, “The whole situation has turned into a farce …and, through no fault of its own the industry on which the economies on both sides of the Channel rely so heavily is being set up for a fall of catastrophic proportions.”