Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) is the transport arm of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). WMCA’s statutory duties and powers are exercised in respect to the combined area of the seven constituent councils, which is currently coterminous with the West Midlands metropolitan county.
TfWM has set out a broad response around road freight and its importance for the West Midlands. There are number of areas where Government, industry, freight sector and local/regional authorities can work better together to tackle both short term and longer term challenges for the sector.
Freight & Logistics is a complex space with multi-vectored issues and challenges and where actions, responsibilities and impacts sitting across a vast range of actors. It is clear that there is a need for more collaborative working between the public and private sectors to ensure that policy measures support a broad range of outcomes.
Located in the “logistics golden triangle”, all major ports and 90% of the UK population can be reached within a 4-hour drive from the West Midlands. During the COVID-19 epidemic, freight and logistics was an essential national capability delivered by key workers that kept the UK functioning in times of crisis.
The sector provides direct employment for circa 100,000 people in the region, with an economic value of the West Midlands’ freight industry estimated at being £9.5B GVA.
Freight & Logistics is critical as an employer in the region but also its success also plays a key role in supporting the success of most industries across the region and beyond.
Locally the West Midlands Key Route Network, comprising 605km (7%) of all the roads within the local authority road network, is crucial for the movement of national and regional road freight. The Black Country route and the Coventry to Birmingham route experience the highest rates of KRN HGV traffic (averages of 8% and 5% of all traffic respectively). National data suggests that HGV traffic has been gradually increasing since 2012 and by 2019 reached 30 billion vehicle kilometres.
There has been a steady increase in the number of vans on the roads and is the only segment of traffic that is growing significantly. There was a 48% increase in the number of LGVs licensed between 2000 and 2015, and LGV traffic has increased steadily and grew by 2.0% between 2018 and 2019 alone. LGV traffic growth has been more rapid than for any other vehicle type both nationally and in London. LGV use is for more than freight. Within this it should be noted that unsuccessful deliveries (currently 10%) and returned goods (currently 25%) push up the number of journeys,
LGVs including vans are therefore becoming increasingly important to the freight and logistics industry. Urban freight is primarily concerned with the so-called “last mile” delivery to businesses and consumers and as such van traffic makes up more than 80% of urban and city goods vehicle traffic.
Last-mile delivery is defined as the movement of goods from a transportation hub to the final delivery destination. The final delivery destination is typically a personal residence. Last-mile delivery is driving some of the growth in the freight transport industry in terms of the increasing number of LGV (light goods vehicles) on the UK’s roads.
It should also be noted that this growth has also been driven by that downsizing from lighter HGVs to LGVs which is occurring as a result of less stringent driver regulations associated with LGVs and with companies looking to deploy more agile logistics solutions, particularly for deliveries into congested and restricted urban areas.
The role of central government within the freight sector is to focus on infrastructure investment, regulation, licensing, safety and compliance. This leaves an important opportunity for regional and local government to provide an environment where freight moves (by appropriate modes) efficiently, safely and sustainably to service needs of local businesses and residents. In developing policy there is a need to balance delivering economic growth alongside the need to minimise the impact of transport on people and places.
Road safety is a key issue: between 2019 and year to date in 2021 West Midlands incidents classed as involving a goods vehicle included 16 fatalities, 204 serious incidents and 1207 slight incidents. Road safety in the industry is a key challenge for the West Midlands, and one that the West Midlands Regional Road Safety Strategy sets out to resolve.
Freight transport currently represents one third of carbon emissions from all transport (which in turn represents one third of all carbon emissions), but represents only 18% of road mileage, i.e. has two times the carbon impact. To hit the West Midlands WM2041 carbon reduction target, as well as the Government’s 2050 net zero target, the freight and logistics sector will require considerable decarbonisation.
However, as of yet, freight and logistics is the hardest transport sector to decarbonise as long as diesel remains the only viable fuel and overall vehicle miles continue to increase. The reliance on freight and logistics is expected to grow significantly over the coming years both because of changing behaviours such as the shift to e-commerce (exacerbated by Covid) and the construction of new infrastructure and capital projects over the next decade to support wider economic growth.
The growth in freight & logistics and wider demand for travel inevitably creates congestion. Not only is congestion bad for the environment, it has a detrimental impact on the UK’s productivity and raises the cost of living. It costs HGV operators £1 for every minute stuck in congestion. Variable congestion is even more problematic, with operators always planning and costing for worst case journey.
At the same time the sector is grappling with the impacts of the impacts of the Pandemic and Brexit; the former having generated increases in demand for freight & logistics services whilst the latter causing uncertainties for the sector and the industries which depend on it and a (avoidable) haemorrhaging of labour and resources from the industry.
TfWM and local authorities have a space and a role to help to create conditions to support better freight & logistics operations and the wider economy which depends on them.
TfWM, as a Local Transport Authority, has developed approaches to Local Transport Plan (LTP) policy to try to reduce demand for private car travel by creating conditions to encourage changes in travel behaviours. Measures which improve the operation and efficiency of the local, regional and national highway networks by managing and changing demands for particular forms of travels are critical to providing the sector with more efficient and reliable journey times.
At the same policy has also focused on the need to resolve issues around road safety and environmental impacts. This includes supporting with the introductions of new technologies and innovations including improved vehicle design and supporting a shift to zero emissions.
Aligned to this and as highlighted in the West Midlands LTP Green Paper there is an important role for spatial planning and digital connectivity to help us address some of our mobility related challenges. These policy objectives are not always mutually exclusive nor complementary and there is often a balance to be struck. The wider WMCA also has a role to play through the lenses of the Local Industrial Strategy and Jobs and Skills agendas.
Given the nature of freight & logistics it will also be important to ensure collaborative working with partners including Midlands Connect and Government. A challenge going forward is the lack of a coherent framework of policy at the local, regional and national levels.
The West Midlands makes up an integral part of the UK’s logistics golden triangle with 23,700 businesses and a 300,000 strong workforce and is vital to both region and UK supply chain. Two thirds of jobs within logistics sector are at level 2 e.g. HGV, fork-lift truck and warehousing, with labour demand across seven Met area increasing from 1,988 job postings in January to 4,563 August.
HGV driver demand was already high prior to pandemic with 33% of the workforce set to retire. Warehousing has a number of challenges including the growth of the sector through a change in buying behaviour, Brexit (EU nationals represented 20% of warehousing workforce) and attractiveness through wages.
In response, the WMCA is currently have two AEB funded providers with an HGV offer available, these being System Training and Telford College. The team is currently looking at possibility of expanding this offer with DfE investment. The plan is for ongoing support for driver training moving forward utilising our AEB fund and involving an employer-led group to review activities and monitor progress on a quarterly basis.
The WMCA is also reviewing the current SWAP offer, across the region, to support the movement into warehousing job roles. This includes work with Michael Page recruitment agency and Logistics UK in understanding need and better connect pre-employment provision.
Furthermore, we are engaging with regional operators to look at a specific training programme aimed at plugging Bus Driver shortages, replicating the model we have used for LGV and HGV driver training through a SBWA programme. TfWM are currently surveying all regional operators to understand demand, with the potential for the West Midlands Bus Alliance to front this on behalf of all providers. This new offer for HGV training has been welcomed in Government as an example of what practical measures can be delivered.
TfWM consider that a lack of data and shared knowledge across the public and private sectors is often the most significant barrier that threads across all challenges regarding freight and logistics.
Government and regional authorities have acknowledged a need to address their ‘freight blindness’. There is currently a lack of data around freight and logistics, meaning that it is challenging for policymakers to fully understand the needs and impacts of and on the industry.
TfWM continues to develop its relationships with key organisations including Logistics UK and the Road Haulage Association. A new West Midlands LTP and a number of initiatives underway, aim to improve the approach to freight policy and build up engagement with the sector.
 Post & Parcel, The True Cost Implications of Failed Deliveries, https://postandparcel.info/93399/news/e-commerce/true-cost-implications-failed-deliveries/
 Logistics UK, Fast Forwarding the Future of Freight