Freight strategy envisages buyers choosing optimal way to move goods

The UK government has laid out a vision of buyers of freight services being able to choose the optimal way to move goods.

In its Future of Freight strategy the Department for Transport (DfT) said it wants to boost the resilience of supply chains and also maximise efficiency and reduce environmental impacts.

“This vision will require removing barriers to freight buyers’ and operators’ visibility of alternative modes and capacity across the network to support more efficient use of existing infrastructure,” said the report.

“This will include delivering stronger knowledge and expertise within freight user and intermediary community on how to access different modal options.”

The report said infrastructure decisions should be geared towards “maximum synergy with private sector investment decisions in vital freight infrastructure such as ports, airports, rail terminals, warehousing and more”.

“This will need to be aligned with the transition to net zero which will require large-scale investment and coordination from the public and private sector to deliver vital future energy infrastructure across the UK freight network,” it said.

“Pivotal to delivering all of this will be achieving a stronger crossmodal understanding of the freight network and it’s infrastructure, making sure that private and public investment is coordinated across the network to deliver maximum benefits across all modes.” The DfT strategy aims to create a “holistic, cross-sector and cross-government approach”.

“Buyers and operators of freight transport will have a high awareness and easy access to the range of modal choices for freight and the capacity that exists across the system. Consequently, opportunities for modal shift, where appropriate, to support objectives on congestion, built and natural environment and decarbonisation will be maximised.”

The report said the UK’s 10 largest ports handle more than 300m tonnes of freight each year and 95% of UK imports by volume arrive by ship.

The UK’s HGV fleet moved 1.39bn tonnes of freight in 2020-21 and the freight sector supports almost GBP400bn in manufacturing sales across the country and globally.

However, a recent industry survey found only 48% of the public were thinking about how goods are transported and delivered and only 24% were confident they could describe how an item of clothing went from factory to home or shop.

The strategy involves creating a National Freight Network, which will span across road, rail, maritime, aviation, inland waterway and warehouse infrastructure.

Digitalisation and decarbonisation is a focus, with GBP7m set aside for data and technology innovation, such as hydrogen-powered cranes and low-carbon fuels.

A Freight Energy Forum led by government and industry will be created to steer a path to net zero and assess the sector’s future energy and fuel needs.

Talent recruitment makes up a significant portion of the plan and GBP345,000 will be spent on a campaign – Generation Logistics –  to encourage more people into the industry. 

Michelle Gardner, head of public policy at Logistics UK, said: “The publication of the Future of Freight plan is a positive step forward for industry; it reaffirms government’s vital support of one of the largest sectors of the UK economy and helps to provide clarity for logistics businesses moving forward.”

The Road Haulage Association welcomed the strategy but said: “There is an emphasis on modal shift away from road freight, but we question the realism of this approach given the vast majority of goods spend time on a lorry at some point in the supply chain.”

Clare Bottle, chief executive at the UK Warehousing Association, said: “This plan focuses on meeting some of the key challenges faced by the UK’s warehousing sector, as well as the wider logistics industry.

It’s important that industry plays its part but equally that relevant areas of government collaborate to ensure its success.”

? Want to stay up to date with the news? Sign up to our daily bulletin.