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The road haulage sector has seen many ups and downs in recent months as the driver shortages, pandemic and Brexit each had a negative impact on the availability of and demand for road freight solutions. Each of these situations would have posed a challenge in isolation but, cumulatively, they began a period of unprecedented change and opportunities to introduce new operational practices. For some, these changes are welcome but, for others, they indicate further pain points imposed on the industry as a result of Brexit.

In recent months, the sector has also had to contend with increasing fuel prices, pushed even higher by the Ukraine crisis, ultimately, at a cost to the end client. Despite these multiple barriers to optimism, we are seeing a general improvement in capacity, pricing and confidence in the industry, from both fleet operators and customers.

Two years on from Brexit and the industry is still feeling the effect. With rules still changing and remaining inconsistent from country to country, the export and transport process is still a challenge. Trying to keep on top of changing rules and reams of paperwork, the process is still not as swift as it should be and adding extra stress to the industry. To add to this, Brexit has led to a shortage of international drivers, prompting a dip in the number of people working in the industry.

Thankfully, recent figures suggest that the industry is beginning to turn the driver shortage around. According to trade association, Logistics UK, 27,144 HGV vocational tests were undertaken in Q4 2021, representing a 53.5% increase compared with Q4 2019. There is still a long way to go to get back to the numbers seen previously but the industry is working hard to encourage new drivers and keep road logistics operating efficiently.

At Priority Freight, we see great value in road haulage and its critical role in multimodal logistics solutions. Just recently, we delivered £110,000 worth of semiconductors for an automotive manufacturer from the UK to Le Mans in less than 20 hours. Without the use of a driver and van for the delivery, the manufacturer’s production line would have halted, resulting in costly downtime for the client. Thanks to our ‘clearance on wheels’ status, we were able to secure rapid clearance at the French border, further expediting the transit of goods.

The industry still has many challenges ahead, including the need to meet net-zero emissions by 2030, but we are confident that these can be achieved if we remain agile in our approach. At Priority Freight, we see road haulage as an invaluable resource in end-to-end logistics solutions, which will likely increase its dominance over the coming months as we transition into more local sourcing. While this approach would be welcome from an environmental standpoint, we must also remain open-minded about the realistic pressures on supply chains and accept that to get it right, we must take small steps towards success.

Andrew Austin, group operations director, Priority Freight