06 September 2007 | Gareth Mytton
The UK's transport infrastructure must improve to prevent delays and a huge impact on the country's supply chain, suppliers have warned.
The Construction Products Association (CPA) said problems with rail and road networks, as well as a shortage of drivers and vehicles, would constrain supplier performance in meeting buyers' targets. Capacity in the Construction Products Industry
, a survey of CPA members, found suppliers are concerned about long-term capacity constraints, particularly those relating to logistics. "No one is arguing for a major programme of expanding the motorways, but there's a need to expand the physical network as well as using technology to smooth transport flows," according to Allan Wilen, CPA economics director.
Meanwhile, a Conservative policy review proposes to charge foreign lorries for making deliveries to customers in the UK to raise £10 billion for road improvements.
Under the plans, domestic and overseas-registered lorries would pay to travel per mile on UK roads, said the party's economic competitiveness group (ECG). But the ECG proposes to cut diesel or truck excise duty for UK-registered vehicles "so that their overall level of tax would not rise". The ECG hopes to raise a £10 billion fund, from which local authorities could bid for money for road widening and traffic improvement schemes.
Eddie Anderson, managing director of freight company ARR Craib, said hauliers would have to pass the cost of such a scheme on to their clients: "Generally they would be able to rebuff that initially, but it would filter through and we'd begin to write that into contracts." He added even if traffic flows improved, enabling quicker and more reliable deliveries, it would "be hard for hauliers to identify savings to pass back to customers".
The ECG, led by former trade secretary John Redwood, also proposes to put selected routes out to tender to be run by the private sector, who could introduce tolls. He admitted there may be a marginal increase in supplier costs for some sectors, but said the scheme would be "cost-neutral for UK hauliers".
But Geoff Dossetter, external affairs director at the Freight Transport Association, said fixing the right price for using toll roads was vital: "Lorry operators want reliability and for just-in-time deliveries, you need that."