Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Freight Transport Operators Promised All Parliamentary Road Haulage Group

Political Interest to be Stimulated by Those in the Know
Shipping News Feature
UK – A parliamentary reception this week in the Terrace Pavilion at the House of Commons gave the opportunity to the Road Haulage Association (RHA) to speak directly to a cross section of MPs on the problems currently facing the British road freight industry and try and formulate ways to ensure that this most vital section of the country's supply chain remains viable, particularly post-Brexit.

The reception was sponsored by Mike Penning MP who, as a former transport minister, understands better than most the state of the industry. Penning, who earned his HGV licence during his time in the Army is passionate about his subject and his speech followed that of another MP, the representative for Harlow, Robert Halfon.

Halfon praised both Penning, as a great campaigner for the industry, and Howard Cox, the chairman of FairFuelUK, who has lobbied tirelessly, and more importantly, successfully, to ensure duty on fuel has been static for so long. Halfon said the ‘war on motorists’ should end and talked of the Pump Watch scheme, proposed previously by Cox’s organisation and turned down last year by government which at the time saw no need for an independent regulator.

Penning, who with Halfon has campaigned on such issues as the ‘cash cow’ that is hospital parking stressed that he fully understood the strains currently imposed on the haulage sector by rising costs and the chronic shortage of professional drivers. This last was to be a recurring theme throughout the evening, along of course with the potential disruption of the supply chain by Brexit.

The MP for Hemel Hempstead said the industry had a duty to ensure a wider audience were made aware of both the importance, and the vulnerability of that supply chain. He reiterated a point made previously by the RHA, FTA and UKWA in past weeks, that the government Apprenticeship Levy simply wasn’t working and that consideration should be given to employing drivers with backgrounds such as his. Many of the veterans who leave the service are equally equipped to make the move to a commercial driving position yet a show of hands demonstrated how few of the hauliers present had employed such in the past year.

Had such a poll been taken in the US a flurry of hands would doubtless have gone up, Penning is keen to see such results in the UK and would welcome a ‘league table’ of such employers, he also wishes to deal with the myriad other challenges facing the industry. He proposes a shopping list to include for example the future of migrant drivers, a review of suitable, safe and sufficient lorry parking areas, intermodal tie ups with projects such as HS2 etc.

To this end Penning says he will set up an All Parliamentary Group specifically for Road Haulage, taking the chair temporarily himself until a committee is officially formed. This he hopes to achieve before the end of November 2018 when there will be a Call for Evidence in cooperation with the RHA and the rest of the industry. With IR35 regulations likely to be extended to the private sector there will be major changes in constituencies such as Penning’s where companies such as Amazon will have to declare subcontractors which work exclusively for them to be permanent employees with homogeneous tax and benefit arrangements.

RHA CEO Richard Burnett said he supported the MP’s stance and mentioned that, in addition to the problems already mentioned, hauliers now had to face the expense of mandatory requirements to literally clean the air in an industry which employs 2.39 million people whilst delivering 98% of all goods and largely remains unrecognised, something he hoped such meetings as this and the Road to Logistics programme would alleviate. He pointed out that trade with the EU had tripled since the Maastricht Agreement and Brexit uncertainty was a huge concern to all involved.

One of the biggest problems faced by RHA members was the paucity of international permits allocated with only 1,224 available in the event of a no-deal scenario. Burnett said 38,000 UK trucks currently travel to and from the continent making a deal absolutely critical. As to the driver shortage he commented that the £130 million paid into the government Levy by the had so far seen only £10 million returned to the industry.

Making the point for the Labour party was Shadow Transport secretary Andy McDonald who regretted the logistic's lack of public prominence and concurred with the other speakers over the Levy and Brexit with a need for certainty in such matters as foreign driver status. He said he understood that the RoRo traffic sector, with its potential for parking chaos, was one of the most major concerns and pointed out the current cost of congestion on UK roads which was estimated at £31 billion per annum, whilst the cost of pothole repairs was now nearing £10 billion.

Hopefully the fact that, as Brexit nears, the importance of the freight industry has seemingly dawned on the political class and the realisation that only those involved with the movement of goods, or who understand the nature of the supply chain, are the very people who need to be consulted at every step. There are those of us who can clearly recall a transport world pre-EU. The thought of returning to an age of extended customs delays with the level of trade as it currently stands is surely untenable for those, on both sides of the Channel, with the power to ensure it is avoided.

Photo: Mike Penning MP addresses the meeting.