It is still early too say with any certainty what the impact of Brexit will be on the UK’s project cargo industry. Speaking with HLPFI before the end of the transition period, some of the UK’s leading logisticians were preparing for delays, others believed there would be more opportunities for forwarders.
With Covid-19 taking centre stage for much of 2020, a lot of time and resource has been focused on adapting to survive the crisis. Brexit-related concerns, however, still loom. When asked what the impact of the new trading environment will be on the movement of project cargoes in the UK, Andy Civil, head of commercial at Abnormal Load Services (ALS) and chief operating officer of the recently launched Elevon, put it bluntly: “Delays!”
This was echoed by David Collett, managing director of heavy transport specialist Collett & Sons, who said: “It seems like we are stepping back in time by 45 years. It will result in a new role for the ‘freight forwarder’ – once again producing some documentation. Total disaster for the UK economy on the whole. We anticipate a lot of standing around on quaysides…”
On a more positive note for the sector, the UK government advised businesses during November to appoint a specialist to deal with import and export Customs declarations. According to Robert Keen, director general of the British International Freight Association (BIFA), this recommendation can be seen as both an acknowledgement and an endorsement by government of the vital role that freight forwarders have always played in oiling the wheels of international trade and managing the UK’s supply chains.
More optimistic is Stuart James, chief commercial officer at specialist logistics provider Osprey. He does not believe that the new trading environment will impact the movement of project cargoes in the UK – “not if you are working with an experienced project management team”. He explained: “From our perspective, being a UK Customs broker for over 25 years, we see this as an opportunity to work with clients who have not used the UK’s legacy systems; to help customers focus on their own field of expertise, while we handle Customs and import/export systems behind the scenes.”
Leach also commented that “as a forwarder handling shipments on a worldwide basis daily, we believe we are well prepared to adapt to the changes Brexit will bring”. Although, he continued, “while Brexit is almost upon us, there remain very few trade deals in place, and as a result we will need some time to pass before it is possible to understand the impact on projects”.
Indeed, the long lead times on projects mean that the heavy lift transport market tends to lag behind developments in the economy and trading relations. In addition, as an industry used to extensive planning and bureaucratic processes, the project shipments should be somewhat shielded from the delays that could impact other, more regular, commodities.