Trade groups react to election manifestos

By Categories: NewsPublished On: Friday 14 June 2024

Trade associations representing the road transport industry have offered their perspectives on pre-election manifesto pledges from the Labour and Conservative parties, as well as those of the Liberal Democrats.

According to the BBC’s tracker on 19 June which averages the public’s stated voting intention from a variety of recent polls, Keir Starmer’s Labour Party was enjoying a 20-point lead at the time of publication, polling an average of 41 per cent, ahead of Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives at 21 per cent.

Mr Starmer is widely expected to become the next prime minister after polls close on 4 July, with many commentators predicting a landslide majority for Labour in the House of Commons.

Nigel Farage’s Reform UK, formerly the Brexit Party, was polling in third place at 16 per cent according to the BBC tracker at the time of writing, with Ed Davey’s Liberal Democrats trailing at 11 per cent and the Greens on six per cent.

In response to the publication of Labour’s manifesto on 13 June, Logistics UK policy director Kevin Green said it: “rightly puts economic growth at the centre of its ambitions and recognises the importance of industrial strategy and infrastructure delivery, as well as reform to planning, the Apprenticeship Levy and our trading relationship with Europe to achieve that.”

He added: “Labour is right to commit to upgrading the grid to support the electrification of industry. However, it is vital that net zero, infrastructure and fiscal plans are fully aligned.”

The prime minister Rishi Sunak had announced last year that the deadline to end the sales of internal combustion engine (ICE) cars and vans would be pushed back from 2030 to 2035; and Labour’s manifesto pledges to reverse this as far as cars are concerned, though remains silent on whether vans would also be included.

“If the end of sale date for new internal combustion engine vans is put back to 2030, this must be matched by a substantial increase in public and depot charging, and incentives for businesses so they can afford the investment,” said Kevin Green.

“The proposed 10-year infrastructure strategy also recognises the need for a long-term focus. However, we would press for an even longer timeframe with 30-year infrastructure strategies that are implemented and held to account through five-year delivery plans. This would move us away from the current stop-start approach that sees much-needed projects take far too long to move from concept to delivery, holding our economy back.

“With logistics underpinning the whole economy and being essential to unleashing growth, Logistics UK is pleased that the Labour Party is committing to work in partnership with businesses. Our sector is entwined with so many aspects of society and business that we would urge for this partnership to be backed by a dedicated minister, with cross-departmental responsibilities.

“Our members are clear that they need senior representation in the cabinet to push the UK forwards with a national logistics network; a fair transition to a green economy that recognises that the high cost of doing business is currently inhibiting investment in decarbonisation; skills partnerships and an expanded relationship with Europe to break down barriers to trade.

“Logistics is one of the UK’s largest sectors, employing eight per cent of the workforce and delivering strong potential for social mobility, and we welcome plans to replace the Apprenticeship Levy with a Growth and Skills Levy, align skills provision and migration with an industrial strategy, and empower regional mayors to support skills and growth.

“However, it is vital to recognise that the UK logistics sector works nationwide, and requires approaches to planning, transport and skills to support that. It is also essential that businesses are fully consulted on the details of employment reforms, to ensure they work in practice.”

Meanwhile, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) director of public affairs and policy Declan Pang also welcomed Labour’s commitment to reform of the planning system, which in its current guise he said “continues to hamper the vital infrastructure our industry relies on”.

Mr Pang said: “We welcome the focus on streamlining the process for nationally significant infrastructure projects, such as Lower Thames Crossing, and updating the National Policy Planning Framework which are so vital in ensuring we have the right road network and lorry parking to meet demand.

“Local plans play a vital role in the priorities of infrastructure in council areas; and we are pleased to see Labour’s commitment to ensure that planning authorities have up-to-date local plans in favour of development…

“We support the commitment to ensure that planning guidance better caters to the needs of businesses as this has a significant bearing on land available for operators to use, as well as other vital infrastructure such as driver facilities.”

He also welcomed Labour’s pledge to prioritise dealing with “the scourge of potholes” on the highway network.

“However, this must not come at the expense of deferring schemes which are essential for tackling congestion and creating reliable journey times for hauliers and motorists alike, such as the A27 bypass,” said Mr Pang.

“One of the first jobs of the new government is to review the third road investment strategy and ensure it is robustly funded. Maintaining our road network should not come at the cost of investing in its future.

“The commitment to allocate £1.8 billion to upgrade ports and build supply chains across the UK through the National Wealth Fund will also have a major impact on our industry and we look forward to working with Labour on this, should they be successful in forming the next government.

“On taxation, the commitment to retain the full expensing system for capital investment and the annual investment allowance for small business is welcome but we need to see the same commitment for full expensing for leased assets (announced in the Spring budget 2024).

“This will prove a significant support to hauliers, van and coach operators, particularly those affected by higher interest rates.

“With the average profit margin of a haulier just two per cent, Labour needs to minimise the financial burden on operators from taxation particularly given that the cost of distribution impacts the prices on our shelves and the cost of living.”

Like Logistics UK, the RHA also welcomed plans to reform the Apprenticeship Levy, and said it was pleased to see Labour’s plans to create a flexible Growth and Skills Levy.

“Just one per cent of all new HGV licences last year came via an apprenticeship so it is crucial this works better for our industry,” said Declan Pang.

“The pledge to a more joined up approach to migration and skills policy is also vital to ensure we have the workforce needed, particular where there are significant and escalating shortages in roles such as heavy vehicle mechanics.

“Finally, with the phase out dates for diesel HGVs fast approaching, it is promising that Labour’s National Wealth Fund will support green investment; however there is much work ahead to tackle the barriers to decarbonising commercial vehicles and providing the stable and predictable policy framework needed including a clear and realistic roadmap, financial incentives and investment in energy infrastructure.”

The Vehicle Remarketing Association found “good and bad” in the Labour manifesto, with chair Philip Nothard welcoming plans for a new standardised battery health check for used electric cars, while warning of the potential dangers of reintroducing the 2030 sales ban on internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

“The chopping and changing of the EV production deadline from 2030 to 2035 and back again is confusing for consumers who are arguably already showing increasing antipathy towards electrification, and bad news for long-term industry investment,” said Mr Nothard.

“Global motor manufacturers want certainty because they need to plan and this switching back and forth is a disincentive for them to work in the UK, especially when one of the thrusts of the Labour campaign is stability of policy.

“It also has repercussions for the remarketing sector in terms of planning to handle the rate of electrification, although arguable the ZEV Mandate is a bigger issue here and Labour has made no indication that will change.”

However, he added: “We know that used car buyers are deeply concerned about the condition of the battery and its potential for future degradation when they are considering switching to an EV.

“It’s generally accepted across remarketing that battery health checks are going to be the key tool in overcoming this and a scheme that has the credibility of government backing and perhaps even administration would be a substantial step forward.”

Turning to the Conservative manifesto, the RHA said it was wide-ranging, but that many of the announced policies reflected existing government positions.

“While direct references to freight are limited, the policies outlined will have a positive impact on our sector including on planning reforms, infrastructure investment and business support,” said the association.

“One of the focuses of the manifesto is infrastructure, and the faster delivery of projects. The Conservatives have pledged to reduce the average time to sign off major infrastructure projects from four years to one year in part by ending ‘frivolous legal challenges’ which hold up the delivery of key infrastructure commitments like the A66 Northern Trans-Pennine Project.

“The manifesto also explicitly outlines the delivery of several road infrastructure projects like the Lower Thames Crossing and the A303. We welcome this commitment.

“The manifesto makes a clear offer towards SMEs, promising reform of digital invoicing to tackle late payments and a recommitment to extending full expensing to the cost of leased assets. For employees, the Conservatives also plan to cut National Insurance by a further 2p and remove contributions from the self-employed.

“It also continues the party’s push to be on the side of drivers. The manifesto commits to stopping road pricing, reversing the [London] ultra-low emission zone expansion and banning the roll out of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and 20mph zones where they do not receive local consent.”

The RHA added: “As we approach the phase out dates for diesel commercial vehicles, the Conservative manifesto makes no reference to decarbonising the heavy vehicle sector. This is disappointing as the industry urgently needs clarity, certainty and a clear roadmap to net zero.

“The manifesto makes two big pledges relating to skills: National Service for 18-year-olds, which could include an option to work in logistics for a year, and the pledge to increase the number of high skilled apprenticeships in England by 100,000 each year.

“They do not however pledge to reform the Apprenticeship Levy – RHA have long called for a more flexible skills levy to better suit the training needs of our industry.”

Logistics UK’s Kevin Green said the Conservatives’ manifesto “recognises the importance of transport and other infrastructure investment” to support the economy, and that its members would welcome measures around tackling congestion, potholes and patchworks of local rules.

“However, to unleash the power of logistics to drive growth across the whole economy, our sector needs agreement and investment in a strategic logistics network and an agreed road map between government and industry to net zero,” said Mr Green.

“The manifesto’s commitments on green levies and road pricing are interesting but it is the long-term plans in these areas and in infrastructure improvement that will enable businesses to invest, with confidence.

“Logistics UK is calling for a partnership with the next government, backed by a dedicated minister for logistics and supply chain, to develop and deliver long term plans for logistics, a sector that underpins and holds the key to growth across the whole economy.

“Without such a bold approach, and reform of planning, the apprenticeship levy reform and our trading relationship with Europe, we will not get the economic growth the country needs.”

On the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto, Mr Green said the party had rightly recognised the importance of economic growth, including through partnership with business, enabling transition to electric vehicles, removing trade barriers and reforming the apprenticeship levy.

“It is also positive that the Lib Dems want to see infrastructure needs integrated into local planning,” he added.

“However, to unleash the power of logistics to drive growth, it is vital for the incoming government to go further, with the appointment of a dedicated minister for logistics and supply chain, the establishment of a logistics roadmap to net zero, and the delivery of a national logistics network, which covers all transport modes and infrastructure to optimise the movement of goods…

“It is important that the next government recognises and addresses the high cost of doing business which is inhibiting investment in decarbonisation and growth for our sector.”

The RHA said the Lib Dem manifesto’s transport plan focused almost entirely on people rather than goods, adding that the party’s freight strategy could be summarised in one bullet point: “a national freight strategy to move as much freight as possible from road to rail, supported by a freight growth target and the electrification of freight routes.”

The association said: “We believe this is too simple an answer for an increasingly complicated question. 89 per cent of all freight is moved by road and we are a long way off a significant shift to rail without the required infrastructure to make this happen.

“Even if significant modal shift is achieved, the road freight industry will still need to provide final mile services. Practical proposals rooted in reality must be brought forward. The commitment to investing in green infrastructure is hopefully indication on that measure but more detail is needed.”

However, it welcomed the commitment to smoother European trade by the Lib Dems, which it said would hopefully benefit operators struggling to maintain business with Europe.

But the RHA added that the party’s Commercial Landowner Levy “risks significantly increased costs for haulage firms who by necessity operate large footprint premises.

“The proposed ‘environmental and human rights duty of care in business’ is a significant concern and is an additional regulation on top of an already highly regulated industry that could negatively impact our nation’s supply chain and ability to keep goods moving and the economy growing.”