The ballot box battle for road freight

 By Rod McKenzie, MD of Policy and Public Affairs

Next month the people of the UK will be going to the ballot box to choose their new Government.  For us in the transport and logistics sector of the economy, the future direction of the new Prime Minister and their cabinet is crucial.

Put simply – what we do is essential work.  It’s high time Government recognised that with action not just words.

We call on the new Government to produce a roadmap to achieve net-zero carbon targets. This should be a pragmatic approach based on the well-established principles that underpin sustainability policies, namely taking account of the environmental, economic and social needs of business and people.

We need investment in vehicles and infrastructure.

The sector has shown that the right frameworks can work very effectively – the switch to using Euro VI lorries – that has resulted in NOx emissions falling by more than half since 2013 – demonstrates how effective well thought out policies and standards can be.

We’ve seen the damaging impacts caused by the ill-considered DEFRA Clean Air Zone Framework.  We want to improve local air quality, but we strongly disagree with the approach promoted by the DEFRA and Department for Transport (DfT) Joint Air Quality Unit to target HGV’s for large charges on vehicles just half-way through their economic life cycle: bad for business and not effective for the environment either.

We call on the new Government to reform the Apprenticeship Levy.

The current system is not working for our industry because the approved apprenticeship standards do not reflect the skills you need as employers. The level of funding doesn‘t meet the cost of training an apprentice to the required driving standard.

There is a chance to improve take-up and training in our sector, most importantly by supporting a C+E apprenticeship. However, the Institute for Apprenticeships has chosen to ignore that needs of the sector and is not permitting the apprenticeships needed for drivers of artics (over 40 per cent of the fleet). Initiatives such as the excellent Road to Logistics need an AL that works for our industry – currently, it does not.

The skills shortage is critical: 60,000 HGV drivers. The average age of an HGV driver is now around 55, with only 1 per cent under 25, there are not enough young drivers. Members are reporting that in the last year, the ability to recruit drivers has worsened.

With the initial seed funding support from Government already agreed, our Road to Logistics initiative (a charitable organisation that matches jobseekers with employers and that aims to reduce unemployment and reoffending) will help to address the issue in coming years.  This programme will work alongside other RHA diversity and inclusion initiatives that help encourage under represented groups into our sector.

We call on the new Government to extend commitments to long-term investment in the road system – both on the strategic road network and other major local roads.

Current levels of congestion result in unpredictable and longer journey times.

We also ask that the new Government vastly improve the provision of safe, secure parking and welfare facilities available to goods vehicle drivers who have a basic right to appropriate places to rest, sleep and eat.

Current provision for drivers is shamefully inadequate.  This is in part caused by a hostile approach taken towards lorry drivers and the parking of lorries. This makes recruitment and retention of drivers much more difficult.  The attitude across Government and Authorities towards hardworking lorry drivers needs to change.

We also need a cut in fuel duty. Independent research demonstrates that a reduction in duty will lead to more growth and job creation. CEBR estimates that a 3p cut would add another £1bn to UK GDP, create at least 8,000 more jobs and will reduce inflationary pressure significantly. In a time of some uncertainty, a cut in duty for businesses that cannot avoid using diesel fuel to aid UK competitiveness appears to be a practical proposal.

The Government should avoid undermining the competitiveness of the UK by increasing fuel duty on diesel to tackle local air quality issues.  The RHA believes there are other methods to improve air quality that will have greater impact and be less costly.

The change to Euro VI has had a dramatic impact on NOx emissions from lorries – we estimate that the switch to Euro VI will have reduced NOx from lorries by around 59 per cent in Great Britain between 2014 and the end of 2019.  Adding to fuel costs by an increase in fuel duty will not reduce emissions, may even slow the take up of cleaner, newer vehicles and will add to inflation.

Finally, we call on the new Government to ensure that any form of Brexit has a transitional or implementation period, deal or no-deal.

The RHA has remained neutral on the issue of UK membership on the European Union. In essence road haulage operators will need to deal with any constitutional arrangements and laws that are put in place.

Recently a further issue has come to light, that is Government plans to impose tariffs on new lorries imported into the UK of between 10 per cent and 16 per cent.

The RHA calls on the Government to remove the planned duties.

Now it’s over to you the voter – and then the new Government.