The British International Freight Association (BIFA) is calling for real investment in the UK's logistics network, ahead of the Chancellor's Emergency Budget tomorrow.
While road traffic - passenger and freight - has surged over the past three decades, the capacity of the network has scarcely increased at all and the effects are being felt in increasing, and increasingly erratic, journey times in all parts of the country.
Existing roads are also crumbling, says BIFA, with emergency repair work also contributing to slower journeys, especially at night when much of the country's freight is on the move.
"Congestion needs to be planned out of all modes of UK transport," says BIFA Director General, Robert Keen. "While Governments of all hues have made promises in the past, very few significant schemes have been delivered."
Statisticians estimate that the UK's population will increase to 72 million people by 2050, "putting an unprecedented strain on the country's logistics network," says Keen.
The freight industry is often overlooked by politicians, he continues, despite the fact that 2.2 million people in the UK - one in 12 of the workforce - are employed in the sector, according to the Government's own figures.
The specific part of the supply chain for which BIFA's members are responsible is even less appreciated, says Keen. "The government needs to pay more attention to the value of international freight and logistics to the UK and urgently address issues that impact on the global supply chain, including Customs, EU legislation, security and international trade treaties.
Ports and railways, too, need the benefit of more strategic and joined up thinking. While major private investment has gone into the new London Gateway Port and the enlarged Liverpool2 container terminal, Keen points out, "what has too often been lacking is commitment by the government to deliver the improved road and rail inland links that these schemes require if we are to realise their full potential."
The prolonged dithering over when and whether to extend runway capacity in South-East England is perhaps though the supreme example of the procrastination that is at the heart of Government transport policy. "It is time to get down to some long-term, strategic airport planning before the UK finally and irrevocably runs out of airport capacity," Robert Keen emphasises.
Many other aspects of Government policy will impact on the freight and logistics industry, even areas that at first sight don't seem to have much effect on the sector. Take the hot political potato of immigration, for instance. Immigrants are playing a vital role in keeping UK logistics moving, as drivers, warehouse operatives and, increasingly, management. Any moves to restrict immigration from the rest of the EU or from further afield, "could potentially have a very serious impact on the logistics industry," Robert Keen states.
Education policy will also have a big impact on the health of the UK logistics sector, he believes. The lack of public knowledge of and engagement with the industry needs to be tackled, if the industry is to successfully encourage and enthuse the next generation of logistics professionals. Much more could be done to encourage young people to take up a career in the industry, which rarely appears on the radar of school careers officers or recruitment specialists.Logistics firm in race against time to ensure Austrian Grand Prix is in pole position
A specialist time critical logistics company was on pole position to contribute to the Austrian Grand Prix recently after landing a very important charter flight right next to the famous Red Bull Ring.
BDA (Bespoke Distribution Aviation) successfully delivered important race car body panels and several race car parts for a Formula One team in time for the start of the race. The parts, manufactured from carbon fibre, were collected from Luton Airport in the UK by BDA's Frankfurt based Short 360 aircraft, and delivered to an ex-military airport right next to the Red Bull Ring where the race took place. The entire process, from the Frankfurt to Luton flight, collection of the cargo, positioning to Zeltweg Airport in Austria, and final mile delivery was completed in under eight hours, and the cargo offloaded and delivered at track-side.
BDA actively started offering Europe-wide air cargo charter flights from mid-2013 when they acquired German freight airline NightExpress but already they are providing a vital lifeline for companies that require immediate transportation of emergency orders, particularly in the automotive, machine spares, and medical and pharmaceutical industries. The company's charter flights can be launched within 90 minutes of a charter being confirmed and as BDA's Managing Director, Kevin Turner, explained, they are a quick and immediate solution for carrying urgent, time critical cargo.
"We undertake regular charter flights to airports Europe-wide but, as you can imagine, this flight was very exciting for us. In order to successfully land the cargo as close to the track as possible, we had to land in an ex-military airport and because the cargo was lightweight, weighing in at just 235kg, we had to be very careful in both the handling and movement of the freight."
BDA, which operates from Coventry Airport in the UK, has three other European gateway hubs for both air and road linehaul routes in Frankfurt, Maastricht and Dublin, all with urgent charter flight capabilities. With local management and self-handling at these strategic placed European airports, the company offers charters for cargo that has a maximum weight of 3,200 kg with volume capacity of up to 40m².
"Charter flights like this one demonstrate how useful this service is to manufacturers and freight forwarders requiring urgent time-critical deliveries across Europe," Kevin Turner added.
"It was crucial that we had the entire operation intricately planned to ensure that the cargo arrived in Austria in advance of the Grand Prix so all the relevant pre-race preparations could be made. Without the resource of a chartered flight, this immediate same-day delivery could not be guaranteed and this could have affected the arrival time at Zeltweg Airport, and ultimately could have affected the race."