Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Britain Gets Its, Not Always Collective, Heads Up to Face the Coronavirus Pandemic

Logistics Workers ARE the Front Line in This Battle
Shipping News Feature

UK – The outbreak of Covid-19 has caused some inconsistencies in the effect it is having on the devolved regions of the United Kingdom. Whilst the regulations laid down by such as the Department for Transport (DfT) are countrywide, other instructions to hauliers and the like are dependent on the region involved.

There are signs however that the regions are coming together more as things develop. Whilst HGV MOT tests were waived across the mainland on the 21st March with a three month moratorium, it was only two days before Northern Ireland followed suit.

Now the Scottish government is facing calls to ensure that the meaning of ‘key workers’ is clearly defined. Whereas in the other regions the government has laid down that these employees must have schools available to take their children during the crisis, the devolved assembly in Scotland decreed that decisions be made by individual Scottish councils.

The reason given by the Scottish Education Secretary John Swinney for this was that it would ‘reflect the diverse range of localities in the country based on local needs, which will obviously differ in island and rural communities to that in our cities’. The minister then produced three distinct categories of key workers, the first two covering the obvious candidates, health workers, emergency services etc.

The third group covers ‘All workers without whom there could be a significant impact on Scotland but where the response to coronavirus, or the ability to perform essential tasks to keep the country running, would not be severely compromised’. If one parent in a family is not in any group they are tasked with keeping the children at home.

Once again we see a case where a government, in this case in Scotland, seems to lack a basic understanding of the importance of the supply chain to all communities. To leave such a key point to the whims and judgement of local councils, with the importance of those ensuring the delivery of essentials to the point of sale, is surely demonstrating an inability or unwillingness to govern.

Certainly the organisation of teaching centres for the children of such a group would be best left to local authorities given the diverse nature of the population, however similar problems exist in other rural areas of Britain and the inability by just one Scottish council to realise the key role played by so many in the logistics sector in maintaining any semblance of normality in these difficult times could potentially have disastrous consequences. Mags Simpson, the Freight Transport Association’s (FTA) Head of Scottish Policy, best expressed it, saying:

“While FTA fully supports the latest news from the UK government that logistics staff have been identified as key workers, enabling their children access to schooling, we have concerns regarding this fragmented approach. Operators work nationally and should not be put in a situation where logistics workers are considered key workers in one part of the country but not another.

”This would add confusion in an already complicated scenario. The logistics industry has been recognised by the UK government as crucial to economic success and needs to have a clearly defined approach to ensure that we keep all parts of the network moving. Industry relies on its workers to keep the supply chain as resilient as possible. And, while we fully understand that there will be some subtle differences regionally within other sectors, we do ask that this does not include vital logistics staff.”

On broader matters however first minister Nicola Sturgeon speaking yesterday has fully backed what she described as ‘effectively a state of lockdown’, with her advice mirroring that of the Prime Minister, saying that although the measures to shut non-essential shops, libraries, playgrounds and places of worship were ‘stringent’ everyone should abide by them, adding:

”I am not going to sugar coat it in any way. Coronavirus is the biggest challenge of our lifetime. Stay at home, that is the message I gave yesterday and I am reinforcing that message now. I know how hard this is, but it is essential."

The first minister went on to say that a list would be published detailing what was being imposed and then warned that emergency legislation would be passed within days to provide powers of enforcement which she would have no hesitation in using, probably followed by fines should people not conform to the guidelines. She concluded:

"If we do all of these things, if all of us do all of these things, if we all agree, however difficult, to restrict our own lives for a period then many fewer of us will die of this virus than would otherwise be the case. Let's all do what we are being asked to do now to protect our own health and that of others and to show love and solidarity for our fellow citizens."

Much of Scotland consists of course of thinly populated rural regions. The urban regions of both Scotland and the rest of the UK also face their own stark problems, particularly given the density of population in our inner cities. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, would doubtless be horrified to know that when speaking today on television he reminded one a little of Margaret Thatcher.

The Mayor has been roundly criticised in the past for unilateral measures affecting the road haulage industry, the changing vision directives, the mandatory low emission regulations, all met opposition when they were mandated. However Sadiq Khan has always acted for a good reason, usually with a view to preserving the health and lives of the city’s citizens. What is certain is that, like the Iron Lady, he tends to stick to his guns.

Now, whilst stressing the London’s roads should only be used for essential journeys, the Mayor has lifted the Congestion Charge, the Low Emission and Ultra Low Emission Zones which frees up the roads for HGVs and LGVs needed to resupply shops and hospitals etc.

Other cities which have emission schemes scheduled to start shortly, such as Birmingham, are expected to shelve plans until the crisis is seen to be over. Coventry’s planned scheme has already been thrown out by the government, Oxford’s scheme gets no mention for planned introduction on the Council’s website, and plans for ULEZ’s in cities like Manchester, Leeds, Derby etc. are still to be confirmed by the local authorities concerned.

At a time when the rule book has been torn up there may be a chance for the logistics industry to prove what all its participants already know, the essential role they play in the health and wealth of the whole of society. Let us hope the memory doesn’t fade when this current crisis eventually passes.

Photo: The remoteness of some of the Scottish Island destinations can certainly prove difficult for such as this Hebridean haulier. Courtesy Bob Dickson (Boballoa).