As the COVID vaccine is rolled out, this new year gives us renewed hope and a sense of optimism for the future. Hopefully, the pain of the pandemic is mostly behind us and although the full impact of Brexit is yet to come, I have no doubt that our resilient industry will rise to the inevitable challenges ahead.

Last year, these twin issues dominated our lives as well as our business planning, but as we embark on 2021, time now to look beyond Brexit and consider the wider picture. The world, of course, is still uncertain and our traditional supply chains are fragile. Consumer behaviour is changing worldwide – we’ve seen the consequences, with port congestion, spiralling freight rates and more – and we must be ready to adjust supply chains and logistics networks accordingly.

Now that UK has officially left the EU, it is more important than ever that we align our businesses to new patterns of global trade. While preparation for the changes Brexit will bring is a given (and UKWA’s latest member survey suggested that 88% of traders were not prepared), not everything should be seen through the Brexit lens.

On the world stage, from January 20th there will be a very different President in The White House – who knows what changes the Biden administration may bring, but signs are that the inward-looking ‘America First’ era may be replaced by renewed engagement with global trade. US/China trade wars are unlikely to be resolved quickly and relations between China and Hong Kong remain a concern, but the Belt & Road initiative is likely to impact on global supply chains going forward.

Another big consideration likely to head back to the top of the agenda as the pandemic recedes is the issue of sustainability; one of the unforeseen benefits of the COVID lockdown was a positive environmental effect, and no doubt the climate change lobby will be keen to build on this. As Joe Biden brings America back on board, climate change is likely to be a key driver for change in our industry this year – will government intervention be necessary to sort out final mile delivery, with its excessive fleets of ‘white vans,’ or will we see young environmentally-aware consumers push our industry into taking action?

Certain trends set in motion or accelerated last year, we expect to continue in 2021. The growth of e-commerce seems unstoppable and the record take up of warehousing space during 2020 could well be superseded this year as online shopping expands and traders elect to stock product onshore closer to markets in an effort to secure supply chain resilience in the new post-Brexit world.

Finally, we hope to see Boris Johnson’s promise of reform to land use and planning come to fruition in 2021 – this has been a long running message from UKWA and continued demand for dwindling supply of warehouse space is bringing this critical issue to a head.

In 2020, the warehousing and logistics industry was in the spotlight and our key role is set to continue for 2021 – but the challenges on this journey of transformation are relentless. Our message for this year, is that to reap the rewards, we must optimise our assets, embrace digitalisation and drive continuous improvement of productivity, efficiency and sustainability.

Peter Ward


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