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Why Multimodal matters

Elizabeth de Jong, Director of Policy, Logistics UK

I am writing this piece as I prepare for Multimodal, where Logistics UK is giving the keynote address and chairing a number of panel discussions. The last few months have seen our media and government interactions focussed on the shortage of lorry drivers, and although disruptions have touched all modes of transport, I enjoy the wider perspective that attending Multimodal provides, and have a sense of pride that Logistics UK takes that broader look at our supply chains and represents all modes of freight transport.

Multimodal is a time for reflection on the year that we have had and a chance to look forward to the year ahead. The resilience of logistics in the midst of such an onslaught of challenges across rail, aviation and maritime must be the overarching theme. There is still a long road ahead to full recovery post-COVID-19 and adapting to EU Exit changes, but also so many opportunities for us to continue to make positive change.

Two of the significant developments this year have been the announcement in the March 2021 Budget for eight freeports in England and the government’s long-awaited white paper in May, The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, which set out plans to transform our railways.

The eight new freeport sites will be in East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe and Harwich, the Humber region, the Liverpool City Region, Plymouth, Solent, Thames and Teesside. While not a new concept, these freeports are expected to create approximately 170,000 jobs within 5-10 years and facilitate business within secure zones where different customs rules apply. The government’s ambition is that they will become innovative national hubs for global trade, with businesses taking the opportunity to generate and test new ideas and technologies across a range of sectors, including aviation, rail and maritime.

Logistics UK supports this ambition and I am keen that we embrace the opportunities to rebuild capacity and respond to some of the challenges EU Exit has brought to the supply chain.

Similarly, the Williams-Shapps white paper brings significant reform to Britain’s railways, including the creation of Great British Railways (GBR), a new public body to govern all of Britain’s railways. We support this change and the opportunity it brings to move away from complex decision-making systems towards a fairer model. We welcome the expectation that GBR will have a statutory duty to secure economic, environmental, and social benefits for the nation and that freight will be incorporated into the new 30-year strategy, and especially welcome the rail freight growth target. However, we are concerned about regulatory changes that may move some legal provisions for track access into guidance, and we will be working with government and regulators to ensure freight has a fair, transparent access regime so it can grow to meet mode shift targets. We also call on all parties to make sure that there is guaranteed extra capacity on the conventional rail network once HS2 is delivered.

Of course, the air cargo industry has played a vital role throughout the pandemic – from delivering vital medicines and PPE to ensuring that goods kept moving around the world. Despite this, air cargo capacity shrank by 25% compared to 2019, partly due to the reduction in passenger travel under COVID restrictions as cargo is often transported in the bellyhold of these aircraft. We have pushed for passenger routes to re-open as soon as practical and I’m pleased with the news in September that vaccinated passengers will soon be able to travel between the US and the UK. Pre-pandemic, the US was our single biggest air cargo trade partner, and air cargo carried in the bellyhold of passenger aircraft is a vital component of our international supply chains.

One challenge that all modes will be facing in the years ahead is decarbonisation. It is encouraging that the government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan, published in July takes a multimodal approach and I particularly welcome many of the commitments made by government, such as the development of new and zero carbon UK aircraft technology. I am also encouraged by the net zero emissions targets – set at 2050 for aviation and railway, and 2040 for UK domestic aviation and the removal of diesel-only trains from the network. These targets really focus the attention of government and industry and give us the leverage to influence and shape the changes to the greatest benefit of the industry. 

We have many of the commitments needed for net zero, so now the hard work begins to make the changes so these can be met. It will be another busy year ahead for the policy team at Logistics UK.



Published On: 21/10/2021 16:00:53


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