Retailers and suppliers are still yet to appreciate fully the agile and flexible benefits of pallet networks, says Adrian Russell, MD of Pall-Ex. For all its pretensions to be the greenest administration so far, the coalition government seems equally unappreciative of not only the obvious environmental aspects of pallet networks but also the Government-inspired obstacles facing the industry.

Not least of these obstacles is the uneven playing field favouring foreign hauliers who can fill up with fuel at much lower tax rates than in the UK. To level the playing field, Adrian Russell suggests Britain should adopt the Swiss model, so that every time foreign road users enter the UK, they are charged either on a daily basis or, for frequent users, annually charged. Number plate recognition systems could easily log inbound and outbound trucks, monitoring and charging appropriately.

Another route, suggests Kevin Buchanan, MD of Palletline, would be to operate a system where UK hauliers paid no VAT on fuel for commercial vehicles but paid a ‘pay as you go’ method for HGV tolls. This would ensure that UK hauliers were not effectively charged twice for road usage.

Adding the UK haulage industry’s uncertainties is the interference from Brussels bureaucracy. EU bureaucrats are looking to achieve ‘one size fits all’ solutions for vehicle heights and weights. This would mean that if their proposal to standardise the height of lorry trailers across the European Union to 4 mt goes through, up to 9,000 UK double-deck trailers would be made redundant. That would increase carbon emissions perhaps by as much as 320,000 tonnes and perhaps add another £305 million to the industry’s costs.

There is some good news, however, notwithstanding the fatuous objections from pro-rail and anti road campaigners. The Department for Transport has started a 10-year trial of longer trailers following a consultation involving independent research and evidence from the industry. Permits exist for 900 vehicles to be 1 metre longer than the present maximum and another 900 for vehicles 2.5 mt longer, though there will be no adjustment to the current weight limit of 44 tonnes. Although that will not interest those who run out of weight before the trailer is full, it will still have attractions for thousands of lorries carrying low weight goods. This would clearly cut costs, lorry miles, accidents and emissions, just as double-deck trailers are doing now. It is, perhaps, a pity though that the trial period is so long.

Although originally developed to transport 1-6 pallet loads per customer using the hub and spoke principle, pallet networks have come a long way since their inception about 20 years ago. There were, and still remain, some doubts by big blue chip customers over service quality. But, as UPN reports: “We deliver on-time for over 99.9% of consignments,” says UPN’s director, David Brown. After 10 years of refining the company’s model, “The message is sinking in. More and more large companies are approaching us.” Customers, therefore, should no longer have qualms over service quality.

Haulier members of the pallet exchange networks also now offer much more than a next-day or 2-3 day delivery of pallet loads. Most of UPN members’ depots provide warehousing and storage services alongside next-day palletised freight services. They offer complete outsourced stock control services, like pick and pack and order fulfilment. Some, like Pall-Ex, offer their EcoDrive service, which both delivers goods and at the same time takes away the packaging waste. This reduces the logistical carbon footprint by nearly half and prevents the need for a separate waste collection vehicle service.

In pursuit of a greener transport world it is curious, however, that the pallet networks and, indeed, 3PLs, have not taken slip sheets more to heart, especially for overseas trade. Made usually from plastic, these account for a tiny fraction of the space and weight of timber pallets, and cost less than one tenth. Time for a rethink here, perhaps?

Warehouse & Logistics News

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