For a business concept that has done so much over the last 20 years to improve palletised cargo transport on Britain’s roads, pallet exchange networks get short shrift from Government policies, especially in relation to soaring fuel duties and an uneven playing field that sees the UK networks’ haulier members taxed far more than their Continental counterparts using British roads. In a recent survey of Pall-Ex member hauliers, every business that responded thought the Government did not do enough to support the logistics industry and undervalues its role in the economy.

chazThe current fuel duty rate of 58p a litre could see some pallet exchange members paying up to £450 per lorry per day for fuel. While Britain’s fuel escalator may have been music to the ‘Green’ lobby’s ears, one is tempted to ask if the ‘Greens’ have the right sow by the ear, in terms of where they should be aiming to secure maximum efficacy. The fact is, agriculture, for example, emits more greenhouse gases than all the cars, trucks, trains and airplanes combined. Road transport’s obvious pollution issue, it seems,  is the soft and most obvious option to go for but it is unfairly pilloried when considered against the backdrop of how much pallet exchange networks have done to slash their carbon footprint. Perhaps now would be a good time to consider rewarding those road hauliers with tax rebates where they can quantitatively prove that they have cut their carbon emissions, provided such a scheme is not fiendishly costly to administer.

So just how good are the pallet exchange networks at reducing air pollution and other annoyances like accidents? By using the hub and spoke principle, member hauliers of the ‘swap shop’ networks can sharply cut down on the number of lorries and distances they have to travel only part loaded. When UPN relocated its hub to a more central location several years ago it cut its members’ road miles by 180,000. But that would be nothing if there were no networks that allowed members to undertake outward and return journeys more or less fully laden, and thus cut not only journeys but the severity of traffic jams. Before these pallet exchange networks were developed, ideally suited for 1-6 pallet consignments, a haulage company in Scotland might deliver pallet loads across the country to Kent, taking up to three days and perhaps return home running empty. Nowadays a network member can use the central hub to deliver goods ‘half way’ and then be guaranteed to pick up goods from fellow members for returning back to base. Typically, the vehicle fill rate for members is between 70% and 90% in both directions. Such operators, in an industry said to involve 20 million pallet load movements a year, delivers substantial environmental boons, but such ‘green’ benefits do not end there.

Pall-Ex, for example, has developed Eco-Drive, a service which sees its members collecting waste   cardboard and plastic packaging for recycling at the same time as collecting and delivering palletised goods on behalf of the networks’ members. The networks have also muscled in on services that 3PLs typically supply their dedicated clients, like ad hoc ‘pick and pack’, order fulfilment and distribution requirements according to their customers’ needs. Pall-Ex also offers home deliveries for its corporate clients as part of its Retail Plus service. This can include deliveries to retail outlets outside of trading hours, the depalletisation of goods and the removal of packaging. This service has sharply improved retailers’ environmental credentials, with just one reporting it had cut 890 tons of CO2 annually.

It is hardly surprising that the pallet networks pioneered just over 20 years ago are now spreading like wildfire across Europe, and even looking further points east. Some of the British networks, operating with various Continental national partners, export to dozens of European countries, and the trans-European networks continue to grow. Palletforce, for example, launched its direct 48-hr express allnet service with Germany for single and multi-pallet consignments, back in February.

Such a pan-European network not only means cheaper freight costs for smaller consignments, particularly helpful for SMEs, it also spreads the environmental gains over a much wider area. Given that the networks have proved their ‘green’ credentials significantly, surely they now deserve some helpful recognition rather than continuing Government hindrances.

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