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'Crisis response built on close collaborative working'

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Shane Brennan, Cold Chain Federation Chief Executive takes a look back at a 'bad-tempered' 2021, and optimistically looks forward to 2022.

Logistics is a problem solving business and cold chain people excel when the pressure is on. These are realities, we know to be true. Even so, 2021 has tested our resilience close to breaking point. It really has been one thing after another. Whether it be the lockdowns, the re-openings, the price inflation on everything, the unpredictable demand, the production shortfalls, or above all the acute shortage of people available to do the job it’s taken every ounce of energy, skill, and experience to get us through.

Unfortunately, as we look forward it’s hard to see exactly how and when the let up will come. It’s also been a bad-tempered year at times, the pressure has been felt on all sides, especially between industry and government. It’s definitely the case that too much time has been wasted looking to ascribe blame rather than find solutions.

Nonetheless it’s at times like these that we learn about ourselves, and we prove our worth to others. Whether it be among our immediate customers; governments or the end consumer, there is a newfound awareness and appreciation of the importance and value of supply chains, and this is a reason to be optimistic about the future.

Our crisis response has been built on close collaborative working, both between supply chain businesses and their customers and between supply chain competitors. At times it may have been a ‘needs must’, but honest and open conversations about what can be realistically achieved, and what is absolutely necessary, have led to better operational practices and lessons learned that will outlast the pandemic.

There is also a new appreciation of the importance of investing in resilient supply chains. Longer term contractual commitments, greater sharing of inflationary costs and more transparency on all sides are providing confidence and reassurance. There will be those that see this just as a function of the current market, part of a cycle that shifts as power dynamics change. However, I think there is more cause for optimism, that a more fundamental change is taking place.

There is a growing awareness that the crises of today, are a precursor of the climate change challenges we will face tomorrow. The unpredictability of our natural world led to the emergence and mutation of the virus. There is much more of that uncertainty to come – extreme weather, flooding, drought, food shortages and population dislocation.

The proactive, interventionist, way that Governments have had to behave faced with the risk to life created by covid19, will carry on (hopefully in less dramatic form) as they look to counter climate change. A cursory look into the detail behind the headline announcements from global summits like the Glasgow COP26, show just how far reaching and disruptive these net zero ambitions are going to be once taking on regulatory form.

Just one example is the ban on production of diesel-powered HGVs after 2040 – this means within (maximum) TWO lifecycles of the lorries on our roads today. National and international policies like this are going to dominate our operations and strategy. This specific ban has implications not just for the vehicles we use, but the volumes we transport, the distances we can cover, and the cost of goods.

One thing that covid has taught us is that we can’t face these challenges alone; and whilst we do not want to give up the fierce competition that drives so much of the innovation and progress, we cannot rely on the working attitudes of the past to meet our future.

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I am hopeful that next year will give us the chance to reflect together on the past two years and apply our experiences. Whether it be through our successful easily accessible, virtual programme, or our face-to-face events (for example our Cold Chain Live! conference on 8-9th September.) We will be providing the platform for our industry to discuss these big challenges, and to forge or reinforce the relationships that will be vital if we are to succeed.

Covid also showed just how valuable trade associations are as a conduit between government seeking to provide regulations and coordination from the centre, and the businesses delivering on the ground. We will continue to deliver up to the minute information, support, and insight to our growing membership. We will take the lead in developing collective positions on the major climate challenges ahead. Look out for our continued work in our Net Zero Project. We will be following up our report on net zero transport refrigeration with a statement about the cold storage warehouse of the future, and turning policy leadership into practical advice for businesses of all sizes.

It's been an exhausting year, two years in fact, and there is still a way to go. But our industry has the people, the energy, the innovation, and that determination that has got us through. The part that the Cold Chain Federation plays in this is small, but we are determined to do it well and ensure the voice of the supply chain remains loud and strong long after the pandemic is behind us.

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