Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 331 - 339)




  331.  Good morning, gentlemen. I am very grateful to you for coming to see us this morning. I wonder if you would like to identify yourselves for the record?
  (Mr Hookham)  Thank you, Chairman, and good morning. My name is James Hookham. I am the Executive Director of Transport Policy at the Freight Transport Association. On my right is Lawrence Christensen who is Logistics Director of Safeway Stores plc and is the current President of the FTA. He will be able to contribute a perspective of someone who is responsible for supplying the nation with food and drink. On my left is Geoff Dossetter who is FTA's Head of External Affairs. We are very grateful to the Committee for extending an invitation to us to present oral evidence. I wonder if I might make a few introductory remarks at the beginning?

  332.  Please do, Mr Hookham.
  (Mr Hookham)  Thank you very much. As I hope the Committee is aware from our written evidence, FTA represents the transport interests of 12,000 British businesses which range from small family concerns to multinational conglomerates. All our members share a common interest in improving the efficiency of freight transport, whether as users or as operators. Our members operate about half the lorries on the roads, are responsible for over 90 per cent of the freight carried by rail in Britain and are major shippers of freight in the export markets by deep-sea container shipping services and by air cargo. FTA welcomes the publication of the Integrated Transport White Paper and the public debate which preceded it and has continued since. This has enabled us to put the case for efficient, sustainable freight transport policies as part of the wider economic/social agenda. We believe that the Government does recognise the essential economic nature of freight transport and the contribution that efficient management of industry's supply chains makes to the competitiveness of British companies. Nevertheless, we do have some concerns, and in our written evidence we have attempted to share those with you, including the questions we are asking at the moment, in the hope that the Committee might pursue some of those issues on our behalf during its inquiry. In assessing our contribution to the debate, the Committee should bear in mind that we have one simple but consistent measure of the effectiveness of government policy, which is in the interests of competitiveness and economic prosperity, and we commend this to the Committee. That simple measure is, does the policy improve the cost, the efficiency and the sustainability of industry's supply chains? Thank you.

  333.  Thank you very much. What would the FTA like to see in a strategic plan prepared by the Government?
  (Mr Hookham)  I think we are particularly concerned at seeing the recognition of the essential nature of freight transport, seeing it as part of the over-economic activity in the economy, recognising that of course goods have no value until they are delivered to their customer, be that in this country or abroad; and increasingly that the ways in which British businesses remain competitive is by the efficient management of those supply chains, managing very carefully the flow of goods from the point of origin to the point of destination. It is through the development of very high levels of skill and efficiency in management of those stocks that many British businesses have been able to compete on an increasingly competitive European and global stage.

  334.  Those are given truths, Mr Hookham. What specific things?
  (Mr Hookham)  I think we have a number of issues at different levels. On a domestic agenda, I think we are particularly concerned at access to towns and cities. We are very concerned about the way in which congestion is delaying the deliveries into our towns and cities, it is hindering their efficiency and competitiveness. The Committee will be aware that we have been working very closely with local government in a number of particular towns and cities, to look at the specific issues which are arising there and to attempt to find solutions, with other stakeholders in those towns and communities, to ensure the efficient distribution of goods to those businesses and retail outlets.

Chairman:  So you have a number of people interested now. Dr Whitehead.

Dr Whitehead

  335.  Could I start by asking you about an issue which regularly comes my way from freight hauliers, and that is the concern about the increase in fuel duty which is currently envisaged by Government—6 per cent on average above inflation per annum. You have claimed, and a number of individual companies have claimed, that this is simply a tax on efficiency, that companies in some instances have even been driven abroad and so on. Do you accept that as part of a general strategy for attempting to combat the rise in CO2 emissions in this country in general, the freight industry has a role to play?
  (Mr Hookham)  Yes, of course we do, and one of our principal concerns and arguments about the fuel duty escalator is that we see very little evidence that this key government policy in attempting to achieve its targets in CO2 reduction is actually having any effect. We come at this from the point that if we accept that the objective is actually to reduce CO2 emissions, we are very worried that we have a very damaging government policy in place here, but which is showing very few signs of actually achieving its objectives, so everybody loses. Industry is suffering from this very aggressive tax, whilst at the same time we see no real progress—for reasons I shall be prepared to explain in more detail—on allowing businesses to achieve the efficiencies they need in order to make progress on these CO2 targets.

  336.  So how would you suggest one might make progress?
  (Mr Hookham)  In our evidence, and also to the Cleaner Vehicles Task Force, we are proposing to address one of the fundamental shortcomings of the current policy, which is that it does drain a lot of tax out of business, particularly smaller businesses that are unable to pass those increased costs on, and this of course is cash in the business that could be diverted into the CO2 reduction measures which I presume the Government is hoping to see.

  337.  So, with respect, you are saying leave the money in the companies' hands and they will do the work?
  (Mr Hookham)  That is one measure. Another measure which we proposed is that the money could actually be recycled back into the businesses through some protected voucher scheme by which those vouchers could be traded in for the kind of measures which will actually bring about efficiencies.

  338.  What would those be?
  (Mr Hookham)  Driver training, where there is a good record of efficiency in vehicles being seen there; in the technology and equipment which is needed to be fitted to vehicles to reduce polluting emissions. Also, of course, the best thing an operator can do at the moment, in terms of improving emissions from vehicles, is actually to buy a new one, because new vehicles being put on the road today are far less polluting than vehicles built a few years ago.

  339.  With respect, yes, but the vehicles which will be put on the road may be less polluting in terms of some elements of greenhouse gas, but they do not significantly chuck out less CO2 than has previously been the case. You are telling us that better driver training and buying new vehicles is going to make this change. It does not add up, does it?
  (Mr Hookham)  I think that the more modern the technology, the more up to date the equipment is, the more efficient it is, the less erosion occurs of its inefficiencies because of wear and tear. I think that in many cases it is far easier to maintain low emission levels from newer vehicles than it is from older ones because they are approaching the end of their life, they are wearing out.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 22 February 1999