Friday, December 13, 2019

Here We Go - The Freight and Logistics Lobby Get Their Respective Brexit Requirements in Early

Now the Smoke is Clearing on a Tory Victory Shipping Says What It Wants and Expects
Shipping News Feature

UK – It would seem, despite the bleary eyes induced by election night, the great and the good of the shipping and logistics world were up early enough to all put in the three pennyworth regarding the Conservative landslide and their future aspirations for the country, particularly with regards to Brexit, and first out of the blocks was the British International Freight Association (BIFA), with Robert Keen, Director General, saying:

“For the last three years, freight forwarding and logistics companies have done all they can to prepare for Brexit in the face of huge uncertainties. The mantra of the new government has been ‘Get Brexit Done’ but that will only have any real meaning for BIFA members if the actual details of our future relationship with the EU are clear.

“That means providing them with assurances that they won’t face another no-deal cliff-edge next year, nor a messy and disorderly exit from the EU. As the people who facilitate a significant proportion of the UK’s visible trade with the EU (and the rest of the world) they are looking for the government to avoid a no-deal exit from the EU and deliver a smooth transition giving companies time to prepare.

“They are also looking for the new government to push ahead with improvements to transport infrastructure, including the thorny issue of the expansion of capacity at Heathrow. In regards to a future trade agreement with the EU, I would urge the new government to seek and commit to a workable adjustment period once the details are revealed about the changes our members might face in regards to the movement of freight across borders. Now is not the time for arbitrary negotiating deadlines.”

Avoiding a no-deal seemed also to be at the back of Road Haulage Association (RHA) chief executive Richard Burnett's mind, whose organisation congratulated Boris Johnson on his emphatic general election win before joining BIFA in calling on him to work with the freight and logistics trade on a number of key issues of vital importance to member companies. He commented:

"Over the past 3 years we have highlighted the risks and impacts of whatever Brexit approach is taken. Enough time to implement and transition to any new arrangements for customs, lorry access regulations and labour is essential to maintain the UK’s supply chains. It is imperative to ensure that investment in vehicles and infrastructure is supported, with standards to drive change being introduced in line with vehicle and infrastructure life-cycles.

“A growing skills shortage in our sector threatens the future of our critical industry. Whilst we welcome measures taken by the previous Government, namely the Department for Transport for supporting our Road to Logistics initiative, much more needs to be done. We call on Government to reform the Apprenticeship Levy. The current system is not working for our industry and uptake amongst our members is minimal. As things stand, our industry has paid in over £300 million while only being able to draw down approximately £20 million.

“There are other challenges too as we look to address a widespread shortage of safe and secure parking facilities for our vehicles and drivers, higher fuel prices than our EU competitors and poorly maintained roads across the UK."

Meanwhile John Perry, managing director of supply chain and logistics consultancy SCALA voiced concerns even before the vote was in as to how the new government would resolve the eternally sticky problem of a Northern Ireland border. He observed:

“Despite the fact we are now nine months past the original Brexit deadline, UK businesses are still facing a huge amount of uncertainty. While we do know that a clear Conservative victory will set the wheels of Boris Johnson’s withdrawal agreement in motion, many of the details still remain undecided.

“Of particular concern are the potential implications of Johnson’s Northern Ireland protocol. Border controls and customs processes for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are yet to be defined, and there are worries that the proposed arrangements as currently constructed will cause considerable friction.

”As a result, doubts have also been raised over the feasibility of implementing the protocol Johnson’s self-imposed December 2020 deadline. So, where does this leave businesses trading between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and potentially moving goods onwards to the Irish Republic?"

As each lobby group set out its own requirements of the new administration, the voice of those at sea who represent Britain’s interests came loud and clear from maritime professionals’ union Nautilus International, which called on the newly-elected UK government to commit to ensuring a strong and prosperous British maritime sector post-Brexit by supporting the core objectives set out in the union’s own manifesto.

The manifesto, distributed to all the main political parties ahead of the vote, calls for the government to ensure that the 'genuine link' requirement for ships on the UK Ship Register (UKSR) is enforced, encourage British shipowners using foreign flags to return to the UKSR and examine the scope for 'cabotage' protection of domestic trades. It further seeks to establish a national maritime strategy and improve the UK Tonnage Tax scheme.

Labour was the only political party with any reference to maritime in its political manifesto ahead of the election. It pledged to outlaw Nationality based pay discrimination on UK ships. Nautilus International general secretary Mark Dickinson said:

”Safeguarding the future of British Maritime outlines what the Conservatives must do to boost British seafarer employment, help the industry thrive and improve maritime safety. To retain a shipping industry that sustains the UK's global trading requirements and underpins the nation's continued global lead as a maritime services centre, more needs to be done by government.”

Nautilus says the UK's maritime interests have continued to suffer decline, despite the previous government's attempts to develop a strategic and long-term vision for the sector through the Maritime Growth Study and the Maritime 2050 initiative.

The UK Ship Register (UKSR) reached highs of 17.9 million gross tonnes in 2011 following the introduction of the Tonnage Tax in 2000. It dipped to 13.8 m gt in 2014 with a couple of larger companies moving their fleets away from the UK flag for commercial reasons. Another exodus away from the flag was felt in 2018 and 2019 due to Brexit concerns.

Doubtless this is only the first tranche of comments on the post elective situation and of one thing we can be sure, Brexit will not be leaving any of us alone for some while yet.