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How will transport and logistics look after Covid-19 has eventually receded? There is no shortage of companies who would like the answer to that question and visitors to the Commercial Motor Show conference gained some valuable insight in a special panel discussion.

Speakers included former John Lewis partnership COO Dino Rocos, Clipper Logistics chief executive Tony Mannix, head of sales – transport at Wincanton Steven Cleary, and British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) director of corporate affairs Toby Poston.

The retail sector has undoubtedly experienced an upheaval through the Covid-19 crisis, with supply chains severely tested as consumers began to panic buy early in the pandemic, accompanied by further pressures on the supermarket supply chains as customers switched to home delivery in large numbers.

Dino Rocos said there is a secure future for the retail sector, but that it will need to reinvent itself.

“I’m confident that we can navigate Covid and be transformed,” he said. Tony Mannix (pictured) described the early period of lockdown as “like Black Friday every day”, as panic-buying took hold. Mannix said stock management is now the battleground as retailers try to second-guess what future customer trends will be like.

This has an inevitable impact on the supply chain and Mannix highlighted a series of important issues for operators, including recruiting and retaining talent and raising the profile of logistics as a career.

To this end, Clipper Logistics has become involved in a degree course at Sheffield Hallam University.

“We need more thinking and planning in supply chains,” said Mannix, adding that there needs to be a greater reliance on data for which technology will be the key.

Like Rocos, he said that collaboration and partnership are vital for the future and a model for future city deliveries could involve one vehicle handling deliveries to a number of competing shops, instead of each shop maintaining its own separate delivery operation.

This could open up further economies, reduce vehicle mileage and reduce pollution. “Covid has shown the importance of collaboration,” said Mannix. “A desire to support has got to be the way ahead.”

Wincanton’s involvement in large infrastructure projects including in the defence sector has given the company particular insight into collaborative working practices, said Steven Cleary.

In recent projects, the company has embedded its own teams in the projects and used logistics management systems to ensure smooth running.

Cleary said that working closely with the key stakeholders enabled the company to plan for the future and deliver tactical solutions. “You can’t do everything, for instance all the specialist solutions in a large construction programme,” he noted.

“Collaboration with other parties allows us to carry out our business while they carry out theirs. Focus on customer needs and how you deliver that. The reality is that things change really quickly and you need to be able to react.”

Motor finance is generally seen as low risk, suggested Toby Poston of the BVRLA. The organisation sees no big liquidity issues from the Covid-19 crisis, but insolvency remains an issue.

“Members feel that we are living in something of a false scenario with a reckoning to come as bad debts grow,” warned Poston.

While banks and finance houses are now focused on the recovery stage and new business, he warned that decisions may take longer at the moment because the banks have more limited capacity and are looking at requests on a case-by-case basis. Low finance costs mean that it continues to be a good time to borrow for new vehicles, he noted.