The Future of Freight Plan (“the Plan”) is the first-ever cross-modal and cross government plan for the UK freight transport sector which was published on 15 June 2022 by the Department for Transport.
Approximately 1.6 billion tonnes of goods are transported into and around the UK each year. The freight sector adds £127 billion annually to the economy and employs more than 2 million people. It is therefore essential that the Government seeks to review and enhance the freight and transport sector in order to maintain the UK’s global competitiveness.
The Plan seeks to implement this through the identification of five priority areas which the Government aims to take action:
1. The identification of a National Freight Network (NFN) across road, rail, maritime, aviation, inland waterway and warehouse infrastructure.
2. The transition of the sector to net zero by 2050.
3. Exploration of planning reform opportunities.
4. Generational commitment by investing in the training and upskilling of the freight and logistics sector to enhance employment and career development.
5. Embracing innovation in technology and data through the dedicated Freight Innovation Fund.
The Plan is very detailed and demonstrates the commitment of by the Government to increase cross-modal collaboration and invest appropriately to ensure that the sector will continue to thrive and improve where necessary.
The National Freight Network (NFN)
It is not possible in this article to assess each of the five key areas listed above. However, the identification of the NFN goes to the heart of the Plan which seeks to create a better understanding of the freight network which is cross-modally integrated.
The NFN will identify key “corridors” for freight across the country which will ensure that the Government is able to prioritise investment in appropriate corridors to ensure the effective and efficient transportation of goods. This will see operators having greater access to modes of transport and other types of infrastructure for transporting goods around the country which may not have been available but for the identification of the NFN which will see those freight operators reap the benefits of end-to-end freight journeys through the greater connectivity of modes of transport.
The move to net zero
The Plan also seeks to address the obvious imbalance between increasing productivity and efficiency cross-modally and the requirement to do so in a responsible and sustainable way.
This includes the plan to phase out the sale of new non-zero emission HGVs. Whilst all new road vehicles in the UK must produce zero emissions by 2040, the date for this requirement for the sale of HGVs 26 tonnes and under is sooner than this as the sale of new HGVs under 26 tonnes must be net zero by 2035.
Sustainability is not limited to road freight only and other initiatives have been launched cross-modally such as, for instance, in rail freight with the implementation of air quality monitors at approximately 100 railway stations across England and Wales to check the air quality on the railway and identify those locations which are in need in of improvement.
This will be of paramount importance given the intention of the Government to try and encourage operators to switch from road to rail freight which is demonstrated by the Plan to spend £10.5 billion on track infrastructure between 2019 and 2024.
The Plan also looks to tackle one of the most relevant issues affecting the supply chain sector today: labour shortages. The issues in the labour market are well documented at the moment and one of the key factors contributing to this shortage is a lack of skill in the sector. The Department for Education is taking measures to tackle this with its package to train up to 16,000 new HGV drives in response to the driver shortage at a cost of approximately £34 million at so-called “Skills Bootcamps”.
Investment in the conditions of operators and other workers in the industry is also due to increase in order to attract workers, such as the allocations of £32.5 million by the Government for roadside facilities for HGV drivers, including sanitary areas such as showers and toilets and greater access to eating / dining options.
The Plan is a step in the right direction to enhance this crucial sector for our economy and further information regarding the Plan can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/future-of-freight-plan.