The Commercial Motor Show has been formally opened by Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Transport, Baroness Vere of Norbiton (pictured), and chief executive of the RHA, Richard Burnett, introduced by Commercial Motor editor Will Shiers.

Acknowledging the role played by the industry in recent times, the Baroness said in her opening speech: “You’ve been the lifeblood of our economy during the Covid crisis. You’ve kept supermarket shelves fully stocked, and food on our plates. You’ve kept factories operating, and ports working 24/7 to keep essential trade moving. You’ve delivered supplies of PPE that have allowed medical staff to save many thousands of lives, and without the materials you delivered, it would have been impossible to build the Nightingale hospitals in just nine days.

“You are part of an army of heroes who have kept Britain going under extremely difficult conditions. And for that you have my enduring gratitude but more importantly, the gratitude of the whole country.”

Responding, Burnett said nothing could have prepared the transport industry or the government for Covid-19 – but hauliers just got on with the job in hand.

“The industry has kept critical goods moving - supermarket shelves full - factories open and medical supplies in hospitals,” he said. “We have just done our job - the UK’s road transport industry has always been the lifeblood of the UK’s economy - and perhaps now there is even more recognition of this.”

While some sectors have been exceptionally busy, others in construction, non-essential retail and hospitality have seen volumes slump.

“The full impact of the pandemic will not be clear for months if not years but for many road hauliers the consequences have already been catastrophic,” Burnett continued. “At the peak of the crisis half of the UK’s truck fleet was parked up and much of it remained inactive – waiting for key sectors to be unlocked.

“The outlook for these businesses hangs in the balance - there is real risk of widespread failure - if further intervention is not provided.”

Burnett said the RHA was grateful to Baroness Vere and others at the DfT who supported the industry so that it was able to maintain critical supply chains.

“Never has the government and this industry worked as closely, providing intelligence and completing surveys to understand what is working and what is failing, all of which has been an invaluable education,” he said. “I hope that there is now a much wider recognition for the essential role the industry plays in supporting our everyday life.

“This industry has for far too long been undervalued and taken for granted and I hope that in this most difficult year it represents a turning point for us all.”

But he added that there is still more the government can do to help road transport through the coming months, including improving the current “shamefully inadequate” lorry parking and driver welfare facilities.

He also called on the government to act over clean air zones, which risk stranding 125,000 Euro-5 trucks that do not comply with policies introduced after purchase.

On skills, Burnett said the Apprenticeship Levy had “failed us”.

“Between April 2017 to June 2020, the road haulage and logistics industry has paid £480m into the levy pot and only drawn down 10%,” he said. “We thought the shortage of HGV drivers may have abated during Covid, due to the slowing economy and reducing volumes.

“However the impact of losing 20,000 practical driving tests – coupled with drivers retiring at a higher rate - means the shortage is still very much alive.”

Added Shiers: “We need to seize this opportunity, and remind everyone just how important trucks are to society. Let’s inform them that in London, the tailpipe emissions from a modern truck are cleaner than the air we breathe. And let’s drum home the message that without trucks we’d all be hungry, naked and homeless.”

You are still able to participate in the show, which continues until 5:00pm, Thursday. You can register and login at thecommercialmotorshow.vfairs.com