Reading articles in Logistics Manager over the past two issues, I have come across a number which combine to highlight some real issues with regional development across the UK.
The February edition contained an article about regional development agencies and how they appear to be very keen about logistics under the headline of “The penny starts to drop”.
The March edition contained a number of area reviews outlining what appears to be a very healthy level of activity in the commercial property market with speculative building developments highlighted in Scotland, Yorkshire & Humberside, West Midlands and East Midlands among others.
Having met very few property developers who are on their uppers, one can only assume that they know a thing or two about where demand lies for logistics sheds.
It is a fairly safe prediction that logistics activity follows population centres and communication infrastructure pretty closely, so one would expect that the upsurge in property activity should be noticed in most of the nine English regions and the nations that make up the UK.
However, the story that greets Skills for Logistics (SfL) as we make our way around the UK trying to get logistics skills development the attention it deserves from the public sector is a very different story.
Those who know me are aware that in my early days at SfL, I was badly bruised by my first encounter with a Learning & Skills Council. In this instance, the LSC (who will remain nameless) withdrew support for an apprenticeship pilot for logistics because “logistics is not a priority sector within the region”. The reason given for why logistics is not a priority is because “retail is a priority growth sector for the region”.
That exchange made it clear to us that there is very little understanding and appreciation of what logistics is among the public sector decision makers in most regions. We have worked hard in all regions and nations since then to try and get the message across that, one way or another, logistics underpins every sector of the UK economy and therefore is a crucial enabler for all of the priority growth sectors in every nation and region of the UK. Without the correctly trained and developed logistics skills infrastructure in a nation or region, there will be no growth from the priority sectors.
This is a message that is now starting to be understood, but it needs more than just SfL shouting about it. The RDAs are a key force in each region and their equivalents in the devolved administrations have a similarly powerful position. Being categorised as a priority sector within the nation/region understandably brings a key focus on funding availability. Logistics is seen as a priority sector in very, very few nations and regions. We are raising awareness and getting recognition as an enabling sector in some.
However, it needs all players in the sector – employers, employees, professional institutes and trade associations to make a nuisance of ourselves and get the message across to the RDAs and the other public sector bodies in each nation and region.
The sooner regional development agencies and their equivalents demand that their defined priority growth sectors submit a detailed indication of what they need as a logistics infrastructure – including skills, communications and physical sheds, the sooner they will get what they need from logistics and the sooner logistics will get what it deserves from them.
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