ACW spoke to the voice of British freight, Robert Keen, director general, The British International Freight Association (BIFA).
ACW: The spotlight has been on the logistics sector during the pandemic. How has the sector coped with the challenges?
Keen: Logistics businesses have shown impressive resilience throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, adapting their operations swiftly and efficiently in the face of extreme pressures to keep the nation stocked with the goods and services it needs. There has been significant growth in the warehousing sector, which has seen a trend towards bigger warehouses, and a radical change in the occupier profile of warehouses.
ACW: How have warehouse occupiers changed?
Keen: While back in 2015, high street retailers were the dominant occupiers, now the leading occupier group is 3PLs, and online retailers, with the global pandemic and Brexit driving and amplifying these core changes, in particular, the explosive acceleration of e-Commerce and home delivery. As retailers move from high street premises to online channels to serve consumer demand for home delivery, more fulfilment and distribution facilities will be needed.
ACW: What impact has Brexit had on British forwarders?
Keen: Since 2021 started, the impact of Brexit has had an effect on every stage of the logistics process, from transport fees and new limitations to restrictions on imported goods. At the start of the year, there were some issues in terms of delays in the ports and administrative challenges that affected ead-times. Today, after almost 6 months, the routines and processes now are in place and our members have adapted to the new situation with many investing in facilities as well as customs staff, for example.
April’s ratification of the TCA removed any lingering doubts about Brexit, although the reality is that the changes within the agreement have been operational now for almost four months. Whilst the Government has extended the deadlines of the Border Operating Model, it now needs to address significant unresolved issues such as delayed Customs declarations.
ACW: How have BIFA members reacted?
Keen: The experience of our members since January 1 2021 has clearly shown that large sections of the trading community have not been prepared for the changes in processes brought in by phase one of the Border Operating Model.
As the trade association that truly represents the UK’s freight forwarding businesses that manage a large proportion of the UK’s visible trade, we continue to express significant concerns regarding phases two and three of the Border Operating Model; and various Government departments have been unable to provide satisfactory answers to many of these.
Actions speak louder than words and with the TCA now ratified, Government needs to engage extensively with businesses to support them to adjust to the new requirements already in place and to prepare for the new requirements to come, to avoid the ongoing disruption and difficulties which many of our members continue to report. With yet another deadline looming, June 25 for importers that have taken advantage of HMRC’s Delayed Declaration Scheme from the beginning of the year, BIFA issued a stern warning this week advising its freight forwarding members to be very careful with any business that they are offered from traders that have utilised the scheme.