Peter Ward took over as chief executive of the UK Warehousing Association (UKWA) in January 2015, replacing Roger Williams who, after 15 years in the job, has semi-retired though retains his role as secretary general of the International Federation of Warehousing Logistics Associations.

Ward has been in logistics for 30 years, saying “it was my destiny” to join his family freight forwarding business DH Ward (Shipping) after a brief spell with Courtaulds.

“It was a business that my father took over in the Midlands back in the mid 1960s,” says Ward. “It was part of a car ferry business called Townsend Car Ferries, and the forwarding business was Townsend Brothers Shipping. When Townsend merged with Thoresen in 1965, they were talking about moving the freight forwarding business down to Dover. So my dad engineered a management buyout of that business and reformed it as DH Ward (Shipping).”

After being acquired by US forwarder Fritz Companies the business was subsequently bought by UPS to form the parcel giant’s supply chains solutions division.

“That was a great time because during the 1990s that was the revolution, the last revolution in the logistics industry based on technology,” says Ward. “It was also the globalisation of the industry. A lot of the Mom and Pops like us were gobbled up by the bigger companies and the likes of DHL grew out of Exel and all the companies they acquired down into the industry that we have today.”


Ward quit the business in 2005 after the UPS deal to work on a variety of projects – “I never liked to call it consulting because I'm a bit of a doer and a finisher rather than a recommender” – before going to work for DP World London Gateway in April 2011 as commercial director and head of cargo supply chain. He then had an “offer that I couldn't refuse” to take over as chief executive of UKWA.

“This presents a new set of challenges which I find quite exciting,” he says. “One thing that I increasingly ask myself is whether UKWA is the right name for this organization. When I look through the kind of companies that are members of UKWA and the sort of services that we provide to those members our involvement certainly stretches much wider than just warehousing.

“There is space for this organisation to represent the logistics sector - those companies that are in the business of moving goods around the country where there’s perhaps more than just warehousing or more than just road transport. Certainly, it’s much wider than what goes in within four walls and a roof of the warehouse.”

UKWA currently has about 700 members operating 2,000 sites totaling 10 million m2, and Ward sees scope to grow this coverage.

“Some of road transport operators that have historically been in the RHA and the FTA that are now getting more and more involved in running hub operations and are in the business of managing inventory are coming towards UKWA,” he says “There’s a huge growth opportunity. The industry at the moment is going through as a bigger revolution as it did back in the mid-1990s.”

Members join UKWA for a variety of reasons, some wanting to support and take part in its work of representing the industry to government while others, especially smaller companies, value the standard conditions of contract. “The UKWA terms and conditions of contract are obviously a very important part of our offer,” says Ward. “As companies start to get more involved in inventory management the BIFA or RHA terms and conditions aren’t fit for purpose in terms of managing bigger logistics operations.

“I think we can double the size of our membership over five years, given the size of the market that we’re in. The whole reason for my appointment from the industry is to up the game of UKWA and put us back out there at the front, looking to the future and not to the past.”

Voices of industry

Ward is only too aware that there are a number of competing voices within transport and logistics trying to influence government, and this can often dilute the key messages to whole industry wants to get across. Both operators and government want to see more pan-association co-operation to address some of the key issues like skill shortages.

“That’s absolutely right,” says Ward. “Five trade associations are talking collectively on the Trailblazers apprenticeship scheme. It’s about making sure that we are speaking with a single voice. We certainly don’t have any desire to be competing with any of those other trade associations. The FTA are very strong on road freight policy. That’s for them and we’ve got plenty to be getting on without getting involved in their activities. How we pull it together, I guess, we will have to work out between ourselves.”

Wards says UKWA’s current membership is “skewed” to the supply side of the industry and he wants to get the end user community more involved.

“When I talk to retailers right now, they are challenged to the limit with satisfying the volatile and increasing demands of the consumer,” he says. “There’s a mismatch between the logistics industry service providers and the challenges facing the retailers and their FMCG providers.

“We have a role here to bring those together and start providing a level of engagement with those end users in the market. We’re going to have an FMCG sector and an automotive and manufacturing industry sector.”


The association is also looking at developing a quarterly index of logistics activity as a barometer of how the industry is performing.

Ward outlines some of the areas such a barometer could cover: “How much warehouse space is out there at the moment? How much is in use? What’s the program for new build? What is the supply and demand around warehouse space becoming available? There’s a performance angle as well in terms of how that space is optimised.”

He also wants to help members overcome the growing skills crisis facing logistics, which employs one in 12 of the UK workforce and needs to recruit tens of thousands of workers each year just to stand still let alone grow.

“We have a role to play in this,” says Ward. “We’re currently working with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and are in the Trailblazers project. We have a service to provide here, to support smaller organisations in obtaining government funding as and when it’s available. One of the big challenges for an SME is wading through all the red tape to actually get that funding for their organisation.

“We’re currently working with Westminster University on a knowledge transfer partnership focusing in on the development of modular training within the warehouse and logistics industries.”

Another “hardy annual” issue that UKWA keeps a watching brief on is the compulsory fitment of automated sprinkler systems in warehouses.

“There is the potential through some very well-funded trade associations representing the vested interests of the manufacturers of sprinkler systems of backdoor legislation that would be hugely threatening to some our members,” says Ward. “They’re trying to bring down the threshold for the mandatory deployment of sprinkler systems to the same level as the continent of Europe. Putting these into new builds is one thing but if they have to be retrofitted to existing facilities that would be potentially damaging to some of our members.

“It’s about finding the balance for these issues and what is the insurance angle on this because it’s not always all about protecting the buildings. A number of clients I’ve worked with in the past wouldn’t want to put their hanging garments into a sprinklered facility. They’d rather self-insure the building than run the risk of having their stock damaged.”


Ward is keen for UKWA to help spread best practice to improve the way its members do business. He cites one small member doing innovative things in the problem area of returns for a high street retailer.

“One of the biggest challenges that everybody’s got is returns,” he says. “He’s got solution for it. If we can celebrate that kind of success and attract in the other retailers that are grappling with the same issues we can get them talking about them.

“We’ve got a series of those kind of best practice case studies. Hopefully that will stimulate the interest in bringing a demand side and supply side together and elevate what everybody’s doing to get around some of these challenges.”