Be it food from a local supermarket, a present from a friend, or raw materials for making products, businesses and consumers both rely on goods being where they need them, when they need them. Businesses lose money without it. Consumers lose choice. Without doubt, freight is essential to the operation of our lives and our nation’s success. Our railways and roads, ports and waterways, all play a part in transporting the goods we want and need, at the speed of service we have come to know, and therefore ensuring that the UK has the infrastructure to support the movement of freight will be essential to its future success. But infrastructure is only one factor among many, and we must look across the board – including the changing way in which we use freight – to truly understand what matters and what can make a difference.
Millions have embraced the ‘Black Friday’ sales from the warmth and comfort of their living rooms – having everything delivered direct to their door, tracking its every move along the way, often receiving their purchases within a day or two. On any given day, we expect goods from around the world to be available to us without long waits or pre-planning – a level of convenience which is fast becoming the norm. As great as this is, it is not cost free – it adds to an often already stressed road and rail network, and to congestion and pollution across our country and urban centres – a growing concern considering the rise in light goods vehicle miles in the past few years. Whilst these aren’t exclusively freight issues, freight has an important part to play in tackling them, and it will be in the interest of all – government, consumers, and industry – to ensure that we can keep freight moving in a sustainable way that benefits all.
Over the next 18 months we will work closely with stakeholders from across local and national government, and across all parts of the freight industry to collect and analyse evidence and undertake new research to understand the issues that freight faces now and in the future, and the actions needed to help solve them. This will include the role that technology can play, the regulatory regime, options to cut carbon emissions from freight, industry innovation and practices – and yes, infrastructure – to support the continued success of freight in the UK. Early in the new year, the Commission will issue a ‘Call for Evidence’, giving those involved or with strong interests in freight the opportunity to put forward their thoughts, issues and ideas on the future of freight in the UK. This, along with wider evidence and research will help us deliver an interim report in autumn 2018, and a final report by Spring 2019 – in line with the Terms of Reference set out by the Chancellor.
It is my privilege to lead a study so central to the operation of our country – and I look forward to working with those involved in all parts of the crucial freight sector.
Satish Luhar is a policy adviser, leading on the freight study