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UK Logistics Industry

Volume 809: debated on Monday 1 February 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the end of the transition period of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on the logistics industry in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the Government have been working closely with the logistics industry over a number of years to understand and minimise the potential impacts of transition, updating assumptions and refining the Government’s policy and support as new information has become available. In response, we have rolled out a multimillion-pound haulier communications campaign and opened 46 information and advice sites around the UK.

My Lords, the Government refuse to properly fund the essential new border infrastructure at our ports to minimise delays caused by the new Brexit red tape. Does the Minister accept the massive impact this is having on the haulage industry and on import and export businesses generally? Can she explain why the Government are not fully funding the border changes needed to reduce delays?

I am struggling to understand the evidence behind the noble Baroness’s question. On the funding side, the Government have made available up to £200 million from the Port Infrastructure Fund, which was set aside and given to ports specifically for the things that she has outlined. On the customs side, the Government have made available up to £80 million of support for IT training and recruitment. She talks about delays for hauliers but there are very few such delays at the moment, as the empty car parks in Kent will attest.

My Lords, the Minister has just said that there are very few traffic delays at the moment going to Dover, so when did the Government decide to build a third inland border facility—called White Cliffs, although of course it is nowhere near the white cliffs—on a 100-acre greenfield site on the A20? Why were residents only told about this by a ministerial letter on 31 December? Will the noble Baroness confirm that the Government will commission a full environmental impact assessment before submitting a planning application—to themselves, in this case? Why is it necessary to have a third one when there are two already apparently empty ones on the M20?

My Lords, the site to which the noble Lord refers is indeed called White Cliffs. It is not a traffic management site and is not intended to be so. It will have capacity for up to 1,200 HGVs for maybe up to five years and will serve two functions: first, for customs checks, and, secondly, for sanitary and phytosanitary checks, which are undertaken by Defra. At the moment there is a statutory engagement period for the site: it started on 13 January and closes on 10 February, and I encourage all members of the local community to respond to it so that they can have their say.

My Lords, what is the daily flow of HGVs on to ferries and the shuttle compared with last year? Is there evidence that HGVs are diverting to other ports—for example, on the east coast—or direct to Ireland?

Freight flows are returning to normal, having suffered a significant reduction over the Christmas period when Covid testing was introduced. I can assure the noble Lord that on the outbound we are basically at around 85% of flows from last year, while on the inbound we are at 95% of flows from last year. There has been some change with hauliers seeking other routes because they may be more convenient, but nothing that we would not have expected.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we have the solution and we have the technology—distributed ledger, AI, internet of things, all elements of the fourth industrial revolution, many of which Great Britain is at the leading edge of? I was involved with the reducing friction in international trade project, whose proof of concept was cited in the new border strategy—on page 40, just for interest. Will my noble friend tell the House that the Government are doing everything to ensure that we are looking at all elements of technology in order to have the best border in the world—if you will, the “white cliffs of technology”?

I reassure my noble friend that of course we look at all possible technological interventions. Three end-to-end systems have been put in place to assist industry with all the new requirements. They are working well and are helping traders. We look at all possible technologies in order to develop friction-free trade as much as possible.

My Lords, the Road Haulage Association says that before Brexit around 18% of lorries delivering from the EU to the UK returned empty. They say that figure has now risen to around 50%. Apart from the difficulties that that implies for UK exporters, it is clearly at odds with ambitions to mitigate climate change. How will the Minister reduce the number of journeys by empty lorries?

It is the case that some lorries return empty. The noble Baroness quoted a figure of 50% but the Government’s figures are actually 30%. That is a bit higher than it has been in the past but over the coming weeks and months the haulage system in general will readjust, particularly in terms of the requirements of the trade and co-operation agreement regarding cabotage and cross-trade. I would expect to see fewer empty lorries going back.

My Lords, there are repeated reports of UK companies switching and looking to switch at least part of their operations to countries inside the EU in order to overcome additional regulations, customs checks and costs of transporting goods to the EU following our departure from it. Is this a development that the Government are encouraging and supporting, despite the potential adverse impact on jobs, economic activity—including the logistics industry—and tax revenue in the UK?

I think the noble Lord is referring to some individual anecdotes. We are not aware that this is part of a systematic picture of a substantial shift. The vast majority of traders within Great Britain and Northern Ireland are ready to meet the new requirements at the border and are trading successfully.

My Lords, the British Ports Association is reporting that its members are telling it that the current rules are constantly changing and highly complex. They are also saying that guidance is not forthcoming for exporters and that they are unable to get answers from government officials. When might they expect this situation to improve?

All information related to trading with the EU is published on the GOV.UK website. In the first three weeks of January there were 3.35 million visits to transition content and 470,000 visits to business pages specifically. The Government have published a haulier handbook in 14 languages specifically for hauliers. I am sure that noble Lords will have seen that a haulier handbook focusing specifically on Northern Ireland was published today.

My Lords, does my noble friend share my concern that the reason there are no queues at ports in relation to farm goods and fish products is because many of them are stuck on the continental port side? We have 100,000 pigs still stuck on farms, poultry is down by 20%, and the fish scenario will be familiar to her. What efforts can the Government make to ensure that these products can reach the ports, whether they are northern, east coast or southern coast ports, so that they can access the European market as quickly as possible?

We recognise the need to continue working closely with businesses and certifiers as they adapt to the new requirements. It is vital that traders ensure that UK hauliers have the correct paperwork for new animal and animal product checks when they cross the EU border. There is extensive advice and support available. There has been relatively little disruption at the border so far, but we are seeing regulations interpreted in different ways by member states. The Government are working incredibly hard to address these differentials with those member states.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is more economical for companies in Northern Ireland to ship goods via sea from Rosslare in the Republic of Ireland to Zeebrugge, a journey of 38.5 hours, than via the UK land bridge to Calais, a journey taking 10 hours? This has a knock-on impact on investment and jobs in Liverpool and Folkestone and compounds the pressure on Eurotunnel. What can be done to remedy this situation?

I am not entirely sure why a journey of 10 hours would be worse than a journey of 38 hours. Some hauliers will decide to go by other routes, certainly; however, we are not seeing a large-scale shift. Given that there are no delays at the border at the moment, we expect many of those hauliers to return.