Change & Opportunity: The UK Logistics Conference

Industry Trends

At a time of unprecedented change for the logistics industry, Prologis brought together key figures from business, academia and government at the UK Logistics Conference on the 13th October in London.

The expansion of online and multi-channel shopping is driving growth in the logistics sector, but it also creates complexity. By raising shoppers’ expectations, ecommerce is influencing every aspect of the logistics industry from the size and design of distribution buildings to transport planning, connected technologies and the development of the workforce.

A Macro Economic Overview

The strength and potential of the ecommerce market was outlined by Chris Caton, Head of Research at Prologis, who showed that the UK has the most advanced ecommerce market in the world. However, the supply of new logistics buildings has not kept pace with the steady growth in demand. Although Brexit has led to a hiatus in logistics property development, consumers continue to shop online and retailers, e-tailers, manufacturers and 3PLs work hard to meet their ever changing needs.

The first panel discussion of the conference included Terry Murphy from John Lewis, Darren Jones from Sainsburys, Dave Ashwell from, Levent Yuksel from Jaguar Land Rover and Hugh Nicholson from Deloitte. All agreed that consumer behaviour can change rapidly, so one of the biggest challenges for every supply chain is anticipating customer demand. One solution is maximum flexibility; big distribution centres that have the capacity to hold high inventory levels of many different product lines with space for reverse logistics, staff facilities and automation.
The themes of the Logistics panel discussion as drawn by Graphic Recorder Lance Bell
While automation is here to stay, it is not taking the place of jobs. On the contrary, ecommerce is creating a growing need for a skilled labour. As the speakers discussed, logistics has economic benefits for local communities with more full-time jobs and higher salaries than the national average. While the industry becomes increasingly complex, it also offers a wide range of different roles as well as opportunities for progression.
Despite its positive impact, there is a skills shortage in the industry and one of the main problems is the image of logistics – particularly among women. Amy Gilham from Turley was joined by Jason Longhurst from Central Bedfordshire Council, Scott McGinley from Dalepak and Liam Fassam from the University of Northamptonshire to discuss the labour challenge. While Central Bedfordshire Council works with employers and local people to develop a workforce with the right skill sets, the panellists agreed that there is a pressing need for more cross-sector collaboration. Local authorities and employers should work with schools, colleges and universities to promote the opportunities that logistics offers, creating a recognised career path.

A Question of Infrastructure

Simon Jones from Highways England talked about improvements on the roads including Government investment in smart motorways, while Paul McMahon from Network Rail discussed the growing potential for rail in logistics. Many operators already use rail to bring freight inland from the ports and to transport goods across the country. However, Network Rail is also working on last mile innovations such as running short freight trains overnight into London.

Along with transport, the conference also looked at the country’s energy infrastructure. Simon Cox discussed Prologis UK’s approach to energy efficient buildings and the introduction of rooftop solar power as part of our new buildings. As peak energy costs rise, renewables will become increasingly important for logistics operators and as Edward Sargent explained, it will soon be possible to store renewable energy with Tesla’s Powerpack systems.

Disruptive technologies are coming, those who are in a position to take advantage of them will do well.

Simon Cox, Prologis UK

Keeping an eye on the future, the Internet of Things will soon allow occupiers to collect data in a way that allows them to monitor and manage energy usage in their buildings. As Benjamin Kott from EnergyDeck pointed out, occupiers will not only know how energy is utilised, they will have the reassurance of knowing that it is being optimised to suit the building’s purpose.