Commenting on the UK budget, Peter Ward, CEO of the UK Warehousing Association (UKWA), has expressed disappointment that the Government has done little to support the warehousing and logistics sector, which has supported the economy through the global pandemic and is faced with the costs of massive transformational change.
He said: “While we all recognize that these are unprecedented times and the government is negotiating unchartered waters, we note continued support for those businesses that have been closed temporarily in the sectors that have been hardest hit, such as hospitality and tourism. In contrast, our own industry, which has largely continued to operate, but under incredibly challenging conditions, has once again been overlooked.
“We understand the principle behind restart grants, but question how many of these businesses will ultimately reopen and thrive. Those in the hospitality and non-essential retail sector have benefited from 100% business rates holidays – and will continue to do so until June – our own pleas on behalf of warehouse owners operating in the ‘non-essential’ arena, whose businesses have become unprofitable long-term storage facilities, have fallen on deaf ears.
“The exponential growth of ecommerce as consumers are locked down at home has driven major changes – and concomitant costs – in our industry, as has the necessity to implement COVID-secure working practices, which keep warehouses open. These measures represent not only capital investment for a low-margin industry, but also impact on productivity and therefore profitability.
“Over the last year, logistics has demonstrated its vital importance to public life as well as to the economy as never before. Yet, there are no Government measures on offer to help the industry recalibrate to the needs of the ‘new normal’ post pandemic.
“Of course, the industry is also contending with the additional cost burden of Brexit and with further process change ahead coinciding with the anticipated ‘big bang’ of pent-up consumer demand as restrictions lift, we would have expected recognition of the need for support from the Government.
“We remain skeptical on the value of Freeports, particularly to UK based industries such as the automotive sector, where most manufacturers already have well-established supply chain infrastructure.
“On the positive front, we welcome the announcement of further funding for apprenticeships, training, and education, to help address the well documented skills and labour shortage in our sector; also, we welcome improved R&D tax incentives and ‘super deduction’ for companies investing in new technology.
“On behalf of SMEs, we will be looking closely at the Government’s new ‘Help to Grow’ digital scheme, which we hope will support warehouse and logistics businesses in taking the necessary giant leap to embrace latest digital technologies. Investment in robotics and automation has become a ‘must-have’ in the new world and it is essential that the Government commits to doing more to support this.”