THESE are exceptional and testing times as various factors have combined to create greater levels of volatility in all aspects of the road haulage industry than most of us have ever seen.

This “perfect storm” affects all within our industry and is impacting most other industries too.

It is certainly no exaggeration to say that on both fronts we are in a period of high instability, which unfortunately looks set to continue throughout 2022 and maybe beyond.

Road haulage in Scotland is largely a family affair, with the largest operators being privately owned.

These family businesses employ thousands of people across Scotland, with many employing multiple generations of the same family.

It has been well documented that there is an increasing LGV driver shortage, which in part has come from delays in testing and retirements over the last few years. It is, however, right to say that there are fewer people entering the sector as a career.

This needs to change as we continue to need products delivered to our homes, workplaces and retail stores to purchase.

The role of an LGV is often underestimated, and in a low-margin sector pay rates have been low.

The sector has responded to this shortage by increasing pay, but this is only part of the solution.

Improving roadside rest facilities is essential, along with recognising professional driving as a key skill which should benefit from apprenticeship style training/funding.

Drivers are only one part of the logistics requirements that Scotland has, warehousing and a wider logistics operation all need the best people in order to operate efficiently.

There are some fantastic roles for people in this dynamic sector, but without offering attractive terms and conditions in a tight labour market the sector will continue to struggle.

HeraldScotland:

Whilst Scotland has some magnificent export products, it is largely reliant on global imports for its consumption. As these supply chains adapt, there are consistent problems with product availability across all sectors.

The well-known “just in time” approach to production planning has been under stress because of material, labour, and power shortages.

Raw materials and components have been in constraint. An example is the specific issue regarding the shortage of semiconductor chips, which has impacted availability on all electrical items and increasingly cars.

The deep-sea supply chain has been hampered by an imbalance of containers around the world, creating availability issues and delays at ports.

As a result, the shipping schedule is now unreliable, with dwell times up, and cancelled vessels or skipping ports a regular occurrence. In the UK there have been specific issues around haulage and more recently congestion at the port in Felixstowe.

This has had a substantial impact on Scottish ports due to the impact of products being diverted from English ports which is creating gridlock.

We can largely predict peak periods such as pre-Christmas, but the current challenge is that we have seen peak demand with reduced resource consistently now for over 12 months.

There is also significant backlog of specific products not being sold, which does not allow for the next season of goods to flow through.

 

All of this congestion and imbalance adds up to inefficiencies, and places more pressure on the finite labour and vehicle resources. It also pushes up costs, which as a society we will mean we see living costs increase as a direct result.

Having COP26 held in Glasgow has further highlighted the need to better look after our natural resources.

As a transport operator we move goods that people ask us to.

We try to do this in the most efficient way using the most modern vehicles, and for the last 20 years have used rail to move products between England and Scotland. There is however more to be done, but increasingly it is about long-term planning.

What is the next vehicle fuel? The Scottish Government must commit to its thinking so operators can start to make decisions.

Operators make decisions 12 to 18 months ahead of vehicle arrival due to manufacturing lead times so the clock is ticking to secure build capacity for Scotland’s future fleet.

Rail can play a more significant part in reducing the carbon output of transport, but it also needs to be financially viable. We welcome the continued electrification of Scotland’s railway and new links such as the Levenmouth route, but it is the cargo capability which is critical for logistics.

Due to the operating characteristics, a rail container unit cannot carry the same amount of weight as a road trailer can as the container, trailer and vehicle are heavier than purely a road trailer and vehicle.

If these capabilities were harmonised rail becomes more efficient and more capable to remove vehicle and goods from the long distance road journeys.

Our proposal on this has been accepted by Westminster but not by Holyrood.

Overall, it is essential that Scotland has an efficient logistics sector.

Road is our most visible form of transport, but we should not forget the essential movements by sea and rail. Our country’s freight must arrive and depart efficiently. Continued pressure of congestion, and scarce resources will only push up costs so it is about finding practical solutions which offer effective benefits to our nation.

Andrew Malcolm is CEO of Logistics firm Malcolm Group.