Experts call for urgent rethink on UK freight transport policy – 01/04/2011

LCP Consulting has published a new whitepaper analysing the state of freight transport and logistics policy in the UK. The paper, entitled ‘UK Freight Transport: setting a coherent strategy and direction for 2020 and beyond’, says that to meet economic and climate change goals a transformation in freight policy is required. This will include special attention for integrated planning for future capacity as current policy paradigms on networks do not represent the structure of supply chains. Since private investment will be important to realise the transformation, planning and policy clarity will be essential to release the flow of private funds.

The paper also highlights the Governmental initiatives which combine to call for an urgent rethink on freight transport policy. These include the tight budgetary constraints set by the Comprehensive Spending Review on the Department for Transport (DfT), the drive by HM Treasury to introduce private funding to bridge the gap, the focus of the Department of Business on business growth arising from services and logistics innovation, the Localism Bill which will create a completely new planning landscape through which transport policy must be delivered, and the Fourth Carbon budget which provides scenarios for improvement and calls for structural change in meeting the more demanding of them.

The report makes eight key conclusions:

• The freight and logistics sector has made a substantial contribution to past UK economic success. Indeed, subject to concerns over the completeness and reliability of the data, freight and logistics has punched above its weight over the last ten years, delivering economic growth with improving freight efficiency. As such it is an important national asset, whose contribution is often overlooked.

• Freight and logistics will need to make a significant contribution to meeting longer term congestion and climate change goals. This will require a basket of radical measures incorporating technical, modal and supply chain structural dimensions.

• The network for freight and logistics that will enable it to contribute to reduced congestion and improve economic and environmental effectiveness is a much wider challenge than has been articulated involving complex interactions of capacity and flows and with passenger movements. This has yet to be adequately recognised in policy development partly because of deficiencies in the available data and modelling.

• Since the freight and logistics element of transport strategy will be fulfilled in future through a combination of private and public funding, it will be crucial that there is an integrated public-private vision and high-level plan within which competitive markets can operate.

• There is limited prospect of normal rates of freight and logistics development meeting the goals for carbon reduction and economic performance; positive policy actions will be needed to ensure the future contribution from freight and logistics.

• There is a credible bundle of fiscal, regulatory and planning measures that have the potential to deliver transformation of UK freight and logistics. Formalising this bundle will require an integrated vision and a quality evidence base that does not exist today because of the constraints of the data that is collected and the process that has been followed hitherto.

• Notwithstanding a commitment to evidence based policy, the data base for freight and logistics policy development is limited and will require a major remedial effort to provide a platform on which integrated policy for freight transport can be developed.

• The creation of the transport strategy vision will require exceptional skills and tools to facilitate the adoption of key policy measures and win the buy-in of all the stakeholders including political representatives, operators and private investors (on whom we will depend to fund the change).

The hope is that Ministers and policy makers including the Secretary of State for Transport will reflect on this carefully considered White Paper and set out to create a national vision for freight, logistics and transport at pace. After five prior attempts in the last ten years, the report concludes that there is no time to waste.