Speaking exclusively to Business & Innovation Magazine, the boss of Make UK, the UK’s biggest manufacturer’s support organisation, says that the current delays at the UK’s ports could take weeks to resolve.
But it’s a global problem, says Stephen Phipson, made worse in the UK because of Brexit and the ban on travel from the UK by France and other countries to try and stem the increase of the Covid cases after the variant was discovered in the UK.
While the 26 per cent of trade between the UK and EU going via the tunnel isn’t affected if it’s in freight containers and not accompanied by a driver, it’s the further 20 per cent of UK imports and exports which go by truck, which are the major problem.
With around 11,000 trucks per day flowing through the UK’s biggest port at Dover, that’s 11,000 truck drivers who must be tested. France wants the more reliable PCR tests, which take 24-48 hours to return a result. But as the UK doesn’t currently have the infrastructure to deliver PCR tests at ports, it is fighting for the lateral flow tests.
Could it get any worse? Yes, says Stephen, if the UK left the EU with no deal, adding quotas and tariffs to the problem.
“We have been pushing hard on trying to get as efficient testing as possible otherwise the knock-on problems build of trucks and containers being in the wrong place. It really is a rotation thing. Drivers will pick up parts from, say, Stuttgart, drive them to Jaguar Land Rover in the Midlands, picking up other parts on the way back, and the longer it goes on the worse it gets.”
It’s this just-in-time delivery system through ports such as Dover that the UK‘s logistics industry has run so efficiently for the last 20 years, which could be put under severe strain.
And this time around manufacturers have been stockpiling less than on previous no-deal preparations because companies haven’t had the cash to put into inventory, he added.
Manufacturing contributes around 10 per of UK GDP, but it’s 53 per cent of our exports, which is considered by government to be more important than other sectors in terms of our balance of payments.
The sector also employs around 2.7 million people.
Make UK is part of the European manufacturer’s networks and speaks daily to its counterparts in France and Germany. They are equally concerned about the situation, says Stephen.
“If you can’t ship your produce you won’t get paid for it, so there is a lot of concern about the medium and small businesses on both sides of the channel,” he added.
And it’s not just MakeUK which is expressing major concerns. The main trade organisation for the UK’s aerospace industry, has also said that the new travel shutdown is endangering industry recovery.
ADS represents and supports more than 1,100 UK businesses operating in the aerospace, defence, security and space sectors. ADS Chief Executive Paul Everitt said: “New restrictions on travel are having a serious impact on aviation. This is a major setback in what is already a long road to recovery for the UK aerospace industry. “There is not yet a resilient regime in place that ensures international travel continues through the ongoing pandemic.
“Government must urgently convene its Global Travel Taskforce to establish protocols that give confidence to passengers and to our international partners.”