The future of the transport and logistics sector will hinge on data, technology and increased collaboration, according to industry experts speaking at this week’s Multimodal exhibition at Birmingham NEC.

In a wide-ranging panel debate entitled ‘The state of logistics in a post Covid and Brexit world’, Logistics UK chief executive David Wells said the key issue for the industry going forward would be increasing productivity with a smaller labour pool.

“The only way to do that will be through investing in technology,” he said. “It will need help from the IT sector and from the government to produce more attractive careers for college graduates.”

Frank Dunsmuir, head of customs and international trade at Fujitsu, warned of the need for operators and their suppliers to be aware of new customs changes being enforced on 1 January 2022. He agreed that it was time for them to get a grip of the situation and to alert their EU business partners of the need to comply with a raft of new regulations.

“There’s a state of confusion in the EU,” he said. “It’s a complex situation with the Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS) and you should prepare for a phasing system. So know your supply chain.”

He added that the ‘Trusted Trader’ and ‘single trade window’ schemes gave cause for optimism and that hauliers might ultimately share customs information prior to their journeys in a “system of trust” that he likened to air travel.

The single window system allows a cross-border trader to submit information to a single agency, rather than having to deal with multiple agencies in multiple locations to comply with customs requirements.

Responding to a question from the floor as to why there was a lack of readiness for 2022 customs changes, Logistics UK’s Wells, said: “We’re talking about EU suppliers and operators. About 85% of movement over the short straits is EU operated. They need to take ownership to sort it out. We face disruption without it.”

Meanwhile Dunsmuir added that more operators will move to 24/7 operations in the near future with wage inflation triggering a need for increased productivity.

Changes in product flow patterns can also be expected, he said, along with increased automation and more goods being moved to air freight.

Paul Durkin, chief customer and innovation officer at Wincanton, said the key opportunity for the sector going forward would be in data. “There’s much more we can do here,” he said. “Ask yourself where the opportunity is. We can maximise the data we have in our warehouses, for example. Make the most of it and externalise it.

“The general lack of capacity will also see more collaboration,” he said. "It’s about moving the dial forward.”

Chris Warn, global logistics director at Pentland Brands, agreed: “The profile of the transport sector has never been so high," he said. "Don’t miss the opportunities.

“We’ll see retailers supporting each other and more collaboration across the whole sector. And technology is going to change the way we all operate forever. Sustainability and the life cycle of products will also play a key role so have an eco strategy.”