Robert Halfon MP opened by praising the Government’s decision to freeze fuel duty. He said that this was a significant achievement and praised those within the industry for keeping the pressure on the Government. He said that the Fair Fuel for UK Motorists and UK Hauliers APPG would continue to work with the industry to ensure that their voices were properly represented in Parliament.
He argued that while it was necessary to reduce greenhouse gases, it was important to do this in a way that didn’t damage businesses and jobs. He highlighted that under the previous Labour Government, motorists were encouraged to buy diesel cars and vans, so it would be unfair to unfairly penalise those who made a decision based on what the Government was telling them to do.
Sir Mike Penning MP outlined the importance of the freight and logistics industry. He stated that as an HGV license holder and having previously worked as a Minister in the Department for Transport, he fully understood their concerns.
He identified some of the areas that the industry was worried about, which included Brexit and the aging population of haulage drivers given that the average age of freight drivers is 55.
Penning stated that it was important that HS2 was linked up with appropriate infrastructure in the north to ensure that the full benefits of the project were realised. He also argued that the industry required an appropriate level of vehicle parking, particularly with the risk of a no-deal Brexit. He added that further measures should be introduced to ensure that drivers were sufficiently protected when sleeping in their lorries. Penning has also announced that he will Chair a new APPG for Road Haulage.
Chief Executive of the RHA, Richard Burnett, thanked Sir Mike Penning MP, who sponsored the event. He thanked the campaign which ensured that the Government kept the fuel duty freeze in place for a ninth successive year.
Burnett outlined the importance of the industry, which employed 2.39m people, the fifth largest employer in the UK, which constituted 12.2% of the workforce. He outlined the real contribution the sector makes to the wider economy, stating that 98 per cent of everything consumed in the UK was delivered by truck. Of the 86,000 operator licenses in the UK, 85% were SME’s, he said.
The challenges, Burnett outlined, were extensive. Those issues, he stated were:
- Skills shortage
- Clean Air Zones and devolved power
- Road Investment/Congestion
- Fuel Duty the highest in Europe
Burnett expanded on the issues presented by Brexit. He stated that with 158 days to go, there was still very little clarity, which prevented the industry from making the necessary preparations. He called on the Government to commit to frictionless trade after March 2019. He said that if there were problems at UK ports, particularly Dover, the port could become overwhelmed by queuing HGVs.
Addressing another huge issue, he said that the industry was 55,000 drivers short. He highlighted the enormous contribution EU workers played within the industry, with up to 60,000 drivers from EU member states. He argued that the apprenticeship levy did not work, and a more flexible system was needed. The industry, he stated, had already paid a disproportionate amount towards the apprenticeship levy, contributing £120m.
Andy McDonald MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport stressed that the Labour Party recognised the importance of the freight and haulage industry. He said that this was a sector that should be celebrated more and regretted that its voice was not heard more often in Parliament.
He stated that the sector was vitally important to manufacturers right across the UK, which was the lifeblood of the economy. He said that the roll-on/roll-off vessels which transported and delivered the trucks which the industry relied upon were hugely affected by Brexit and stressed that a Labour government would seek to protect the haulage industry by pressing to retain a customs union relationship with the EU.
McDonald said gaining access to appropriate licenses for drivers was key to ensuring that haulage firms would be able to trade with the EU post-Brexit. He reiterated that Labour’s proposals to stay in the single market would protect this.
McDonald also highlighted congestion as a huge problem for the industry. He said that the UN IPCC report further stressed the importance of lowering greenhouse gases, which the haulage industry contributed towards. However, he said that the industry recognised the need to reduce pollution and it was important to work with the industry to help the industry adapt.
He identified potholes as another concern for the industry and said that a Labour Government would properly invest in the UK’s infrastructure because “we need a road system fit for the 21st century”.
McDonald concluded that the Government needed to provide further clarity over its Brexit plans, arguing that the technical notices were insufficient.