The Freight Transport Association’s flagship conference for 2018 takes place at a crunch time for the industry – as UK prime minister Theresa May prepares to meet her cabinet to discuss a divorce deal from the EU and just over a week ahead of the year’s Black Friday.
However, the event in Leamington Spa, titled the Future Logistics Conference, aimed to look further ahead than the coming days.
David Wells, CEO of the FTA, used his ‘Logistics 2050’ keynote to try to define a roadmap for how the industry can adapt to technological and consumer changes.
As well as the potential of technologies such as drones and autonomous vehicles to help with deliveries, there is the ever-growing demand for faster and faster deliveries driven by the shift to ecommerce, said Wells.
His keynote therefore drew out four main areas which he believed the industry should focus on. One of these was optimising infrastructure to think about availability and capacity. Wells claimed that zero emissions were achievable by 2050, as well as near-zero fatalities.
Other areas included the positive use of technologies, the focus on people’s skills and the shift towards government policy which covered all areas of freight rather than siloing different transport categories.
Speaking to eDelivery after the talk, Wells said that the strategy aimed to address the need to deliver “products faster and faster”, driven by the “rapid shift to ecommerce”. This demand was throwing up new questions around last mile delivery and storage, for example.
He said that there were questions around the sustainability of the current model as it is based on a fairly low regulation environment.
Wells emphasised the need to self-regulate in order to try and head off regulation from central government – “regulation has a cost, if we do it ourselves we can avoid that cost.”
The conference this week is all about the FTA engaging in a debate about what regulatory changes will be needed and going to government to outline these priorities.
“We don’t want industry to be held back from accepting new tech because regulation hasn’t kept pace.”
Supporting the industry would of course require managing people. Wells said that creating a customer service qualification for drivers that would be accepted across the whole industry was a potential project for the nearer future.
Also looming large in the nearer future is the outcome of the UK’s negotiations with the EU. While Wells was unwilling to speculate on how the talks might turn out, he was more certain of what would happen if they didn’t succeed.
“If we are heading to no deal come 29 March there will be a period of significant disruption to networks,” Wells said.
He said that the trade body was already advising people to prepare, with some companies already stockpiling supplies and some looking outside the EU for supply lines.
However, he said that he was “reasonably confident that the industry has done all we can to make government aware of importance of supply chain and the criticality of supply chains across industries.”
He added that he believed there would be a resolution to the impasse but only after significant disruption.