Tim Doggett - November 2017

Britain’s ‘imminent’ departure from the European Union may have sparked huge debate across the UK logistics sector, with concerns of significant challenges throughout the international supply chain, but Brexit could also be a catalyst for change for the better for the industry, according to Clugston Distribution director Tim Doggett.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, a potential ‘no-deal’ scenario and the unprecedented defeat of PM Theresa May’s Brexit deal which was the largest ever for a sitting government in history the UK logistics sector remains generally pragmatic. In fact, a recent report which garnered the opinions of more than 370 British freight and logistics businesses, revealed three quarters of logistics companies are confident their businesses will grow over the next three years.

Whilst forecasting the outcome of Brexit is complex and it is very difficult to foresee what the final implications will be for the logistics sector, it is not all negative. For those willing to embrace change to meet the Brexit challenges, there are likely to be ample opportunities to grow their service offerings and deliver for a broader range of customers.

First port of call

With fears increasingly mounting about the UK’s future trade relationship with the EU following Brexit, there are predictions of unprecedented levels of disruption and border delays, particularly at Britain’s busiest ferry port of Dover. While less reported, an influx of freight could also be expected through other ports as shipping companies seek alternatives to avoid the more traditionally utilised routes.

Northern ports, such as Hull and Immingham have generally been under-utilised for a variety of reasons, despite the latter being the busiest cargo port in the UK with a cargo volume of 59m tonnes being loaded and discharged annually. Brexit, however, could present an opportunity to increase investment and development of these as an attractive alternative route for logistics providers keen to avoid the anticipated gridlock in Kent.

What’s more, there has also been much discussion and political support for the establishment of free ports in such locations from high profile MPs and ministers, with the number two at the Treasury, Liz Truss, and Brexit minister Suella Braverman both paying visits to the Port of Immingham in recent months to discuss the concept.

Infrastructure investment

The government’s official position is that the UK will leave the Single Market and Customs Union, which would, it is understood, increase the current number of import customs entries from approximately 70 million to 350 million per year – while the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight service (Chief) and new Customs Declaration Service (CDS) systems are likely to be able to manage this increase, there are serious concerns as to the availability of suitably trained numbers of staff and the infrastructure to support it.

Many logistics businesses are beginning to pool resources to keep the industry moving, as well as investing in UK-based staff and working with leading organisations to ensure Brexit won’t have the impact that media speculation would have the public believe.

However, despite the general optimism of growth over the next three years, more than half of companies in transport and logistics think they are still not sufficiently prepared for Brexit, according to a recent survey .

Compounded by uncertainties around Brexit, leading UK logistics companies such as Clugston Distribution have increased investment in training and apprentices to develop the next generation of talented and skilled workers – not just drivers but for a broad spectrum of roles, from transport planners through to HGV vehicle technicians.

The company provides a high level of internal professional support throughout multi-year programmes, with in-house training and support from experienced managers who are trained and approved mentors.

Global logistics services

With Brexit still hanging in the balance, a number of transport providers have already restructured their businesses in response to the UK’s departure from the EU. As part of a Brexit strategy, for instance, Clugston Distribution has redefined its organisation to create a specific business unit dedicated to European and international logistics.

Clugston Global Logistics – just one example of a shift being seen across the wider logistics sector – is a stand-alone business unit which provides a complete package of global supply chain solutions throughout the UK, Europe and the rest of the world, from national and international distribution through to warehousing, pick, pack and order fulfilments.

Supply chain efficiencies

As the prospect of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit becomes an increasing possibility, driving efficiency throughout the supply chain will become more necessary than ever. As a result, aspects such as vehicle maintenance and repair processes and establishing strategic supply chain locations have become more essential as companies bid to mitigate further the possible downtime and disruption in the wake of perceived delays at British ports.

What this means is many businesses continue to invest in infrastructure, from new trucks and trailers to maintenance facilities and strategic depots across the UK, Europe and globally.

Due to growing demand for its services, along with a potential increase of vehicles in the north in the post-Brexit supply chain, the company also recently invested in upgrading our large multi-bay maintenance facility, including an Authorised Test Facility.