COVID-19: FTA requests extension to transition period for leaving EU and suspension of clean air zones and Direct Vision Standard

The FTA has requested an extension to the current transition period for leaving the EU in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic, writes Tim Wallace.

It has also asked ministers to consider suspending the implementation of other legislation which will affect logistics operators in the short term.

This includes the expansion of the London-wide Low Emission Zone for HGVs and the London Direct Vision Standard, due to take effect from October this year, as well as the start of other clean air zones in areas including Birmingham and Leeds.

The UK is due to leave the EU at the end of 2020 with new rules on trade, travel and business taking effect on 1 January 2021.

However, the FTA claimed the challenges posed by the virus will make the effective implementation of any new legislation impossible in the short term.

“This is not about the relative merits of Brexit, or any trading arrangements which our industry will need to adopt,” explained Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at the FTA. “This is purely and simply so the businesses tasked with keeping the UK’s supply chain intact can concentrate on the serious issues which the COVID-19 pandemic is placing on the industry.

“Logistics is facing unprecedented challenges, both in terms of keeping the UK economy supplied with all the goods it needs to function, as well as coping with the increased disruption to staffing levels caused by sickness and self-isolation and concerns about the viability of their businesses.

"Our first priority is always to deliver for our customers, and there is simply not enough capacity available to plan the major structural changes needed to implement a successful departure from the EU, as well as myriad other planned legislation changes on the horizon, as well as dealing with unprecedented pressures caused by COVID-19."

Referring to the FTA's request to consider suspending other legislation including clean air zones and the Direct Vision Standard, de Jong said: “All this new legislation, and new trading arrangements, need careful planning and implementation in normal circumstances. But it is clear they would bring major change to our sector at a time when we are fully committed to overcoming the challenges which COVID-19 presents.

“In addition to the administrative, practical and financial difficulties experienced by our sector, the pandemic will undoubtedly have a significant impact on supplies of new equipment, technology and vehicles in the coming months, as well as the industry’s ability to recruit and train new staff. Add in the challenge of adapting to new trading arrangements with the EU – which are yet to be formalised – and the situation is placing logistics under huge and unnecessary pressures.

“Logistics is a flexible industry, but such significant change cannot happen overnight, and there is simply not the capacity for planning and delivery of new legislation at present within the system. COVID-19 has created a once-in-a-lifetime emergency situation which needs the full attention of the whole sector – adding in a host of new legislation would place untold, unnecessary pressure on a supply chain that is already stretched. Our industry needs the support of government, not to be broken by it.”

From the Frontline: James Smith, Hireco Group MD, talks about the impact COVID-19 is having on his vehicle rental business

“On the one hand we have seen an impact on the skeletal fleet, but on the flip side pharmaceutical, food and dry freight has literally gone mad,” explained Hireco Group MD James Smith. “Stuff is flying out, and we have Christmas levels of utilisation.”

Smith said last week’s temporary closure of the MoT stations had an impact on the business. “But they came to their senses and put that extension in place, which was good,” he said.

Smith has a huge amount of praise for all of his staff, operating in such difficult conditions, but is particularly impressed with the professionalism of the servicing team – both admin staff and those out on the road.

“I’m so proud of the team out on the road, keeping the kit moving,” he said, referring to the fleet of 30 service vans and 400 key vendors. “They could easily have said we aren’t working, but they have fantastic working practices. Without those trailers being serviced, they wouldn’t be able to go out and help to keep the supermarket fleets going.”

Hireco is also doing its bit to help with setting up the makeshift COVID-19 field hospital in the ExCeL Centre in East London. “Our truck parks are being used to store the scanning equipment,” Smith explained. “It’s all hands to the pump. We have to keep the UK moving, and Hireco plays a critical part in that process.”