This year saw the UK finally move out of recession – the last major economy in the world to do so, writes Roger Williams, chief executive officer of UKWA. But, with the Eurozone debt crisis, austerity cuts, a weak housing market and the VAT rise all expected to have an impact, the economic outlook for 2011 is far from certain.

However, most commentators seem to agree that the logistics industry  faces several hard years where high professional standards, lean operations, innovation  and a lot of hard work will remain at the core of business models.

Having felt let down by the previous Government’s depressing failure to grasp the key role that the haulage sector plays in the success of the UK economy, UKWA’s members – who comprise the nation’s leading third party logistics service providers – will be watching the performance of the Coalition with interest.

In its Progamme for Government, the Coalition emphasised that it has every intention of introducing “a new system of HGV road user charging to ensure a fairer arrangement for UK hauliers.” Certainly any moves that allow UK-based hauliers to compete on a ‘level playing field’ with foreign-owned firms are long overdue and it is hoped that, finally, foreign hauliers could be made to pay for the privilege of using our roads.

The logistics industry would also like to see greater investment in the UK’s roads infrastructure. As levels of congestion increase so too does the average journey time for hauliers which, in turn, means extra supply chain costs. It would be disastrous for the economy if our poor transport system held back the recovery.

That said, there is certainly a renewed sense of optimism about the industry and this was particularly in evidence at the recent IMHX. Many of UKWA’s Associate Members were exhibiting and those that I spoke to all reported excellent levels of interest.

There was a noticeable ‘buzz’ about the show and let us hope that the encouraging enquiries taken by so many exhibitors can be turned in to orders in the weeks and months ahead.

For its part UKWA enjoyed a very encouraging 2010. Our Awards for Warehousing go from strength and our Annual Conference was a great success. Furthermore, the Association’s membership continues to rise: it was up 20 per cent last year.

There is no question that an effectively managed supply chain can positively influence business performance and, if companies are going to succeed in a competitive and unpredictable environment, every link in the chain must operate at optimum efficiency. That’s why any company that finds its fixed logistics costs are having a negative impact on its balance sheet simply has to consider outsourcing to a 3PL and our members report sustained growth in the number of businesses choosing to outsource logistics and supply chain management functions.

With more companies looking to outsource their logistics and warehousing operations UKWA will continue to do everything that it can to ensure that its members are well placed to take advantage of any openings that present themselves.

IMHX 2010

This year’s IMHX can only be hailed as a tremendous success. Many of UKWA’s Associate Members were exhibiting and those that I managed to speak to certainly  all reported excellent levels of interest, writes Roger Williams.

There was a noticeable ‘buzz’ about the show and the organiser’s decision to switch the event from its original date of March this year to November seems to have been fully vindicated.

There is no doubt that the show has matured into an excellent business forum and I understand that the IMHX conference programme drew impressive crowds too.

Although some familiar names from the forklift industry were notable for their absence – Linde, Barloworld, Still – the forklift suppliers were out in force with many showing exciting innovations that are a testament to the way many of these organisations have continued to invest massive amounts in R&D throughout the recession.

But IMHX 2010 was about much more than forklifts and this year saw a vast array of suppliers of products and services exhibiting. For me, it was particularly pleasing to see so many of UKWA’s Associate Members (who comprise suppliers to the logistics and warehousing sectors) among the exhibitors.

After several years of almost relentless gloom, the materials handling industry needed IMHX 2010 to be a success. Let us hope that the encouraging enquiries taken by so many exhibitors can be turned in to orders in the weeks and months ahead.

Roger Williams is chief executive officer of UKWA – the United Kingdom Warehousing Association. UKWA is the UK’s only trade association dedicated to serving the warehousing and logistics sector.

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