Freight and logistics has been pinpointed as a sector that will enable the North of England to become a ‘super region’, as it looks to compete on an international level and redress the economic imbalance with the South.
The Northern Powerhouse Investment Opportunities publication, released in January 2017 by the Department for International Trade (DIT), built on George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse strategy and outlined key opportunities specific sectors in the North have to play in delivering economic might to the whole of the UK. Logistics and transport was identified as a priority.
Hefty infrastructure projects have been lauded as the way the North can improve its freight and logistics sector, with improvements to the roads being detailed as one of the key projects to help the North grow.
Here, Mike Danby, CEO of Yorkshire-based Advanced Supply Chain Group calls for more focus on how technology can revitalise and improve its transport operations to deliver benefits to the Northern economy necessary to fuel the powerhouse.
“The freight sector accounts for 9% of the country’s GDP, and helps support every other industry. It is the lifeblood of the UK’s economy. A total of 1.65 billion tonnes of freight are transported by road, with over a third of this in the North of England. It is clear why this is one of the primary focuses as part of the Northern Powerhouse strategy.
“With the Government currently in the process of negotiating our exit terms from the European Union, it is becoming increasingly more apparent that Britain is open for business. Investing in our freight and logistics sectors is fundamental as it will enable the country to transfer imports and exports more seamlessly – vital for making us an appealing country to trade with.
“The new publication from the DIT shows there is significant opportunities for businesses to embrace the Northern Powerhouse strategy and begin to build on the plans for the benefit of individual companies.
“The Northern Powerhouse strategy is a long term project, with even longer term goals. Businesses are in the ideal position now to implement strategies which will help them to grow with the region. But businesses must be able to get their goods where they need to be faster and more frugally. Agility and efficiencies must be cornerstones of our logistics operations in the North. If we are to be an economic region to be envied across the world, we need to drain every last drop of resource our transport networks can offer. Whilst infrastructure will provide the foundations of a powerhouse, technology will be the catalyst that brings it to life and makes the North fly.
“By taking a holistic view of the traditional supply chain, and finding the sweet spots where marrying infrastructure to technology will deliver meaningful and agile logistics for all businesses in the region, our collective productivity will boom. The efficiency benefits this will bring will make our products and services a more attractive and coveted offer on the international stage.
“The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), big data and other advancements has enabled data to be shared seamlessly across platforms, allowing logistics operations to have the benefit of real-time data and intelligent oversight. In an increasingly volatile and unpredictable market, and with our trading relationships in flux, it will become even more vital for the region’s businesses to be able to be as productive and responsive to demand as possible.
“The North handles a disproportionate volume of freight traffic and this will increase as the region’s connectivity improves, helping us to increase investment and create new jobs as a result. But we cannot only rely solely on the Government to provide the means to our end. The Northern Powerhouse strategy will only succeed if private sector businesses make the decision to invest and improve too. The returns for businesses that do begin to take a tech-first approach will be considerable, whilst also helping to build a stronger, more connected North.
“As technology becomes more advanced and powerful, so too should the North. But it needs an immediate and well-rounded injection of a digital mindset into the traditionally slow to adopt logistics sector. Technology needs to be innately engrained in to the fabric of the Northern Powerhouse. In planning the freight and logistics for the desired super region, those with the power to do so must see technology as the top priority, and businesses should get ahead of the game too.”