UK extension to cabotage relaxation being kept under review

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Transport, did not rule out an extension to the UK government's cabotage relaxation while speaking at a Transport Committee meeting last week.

UK extension to cabotage relaxation being kept under review
Photo © Copyright Christopher Hilton

The issue of cabotage was one of the topics discussed during last Wednesday’s meeting, which covered areas such facilities, sustainability and the driver shortage.

At one point during the meeting, Vere was asked about the impact cabotage had had on supply chains, and to what degree the relaxation was being utilised.

In reply, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Transport said:

“Well, I think we should note that prior to the pandemic, cabotage was only about 1% of ton miles or half a percent of tons lifted. So it was already a very small element. I don’t sadly have the sort of detail that I think you want. Before the pandemic that was the equivalent of 2,500 drivers. What we’re doing at the moment is we’re gathering information from our information and advice sites, to try and understand which overseas drivers are actually on cabotage legs. Obviously, it’s quite a difficult bit of information to find out. So we do think it’s had an impact, but we never thought it was going to be a massive impact. Again, it was a case of every little helps.”

Baroness Vere was then asked if industry was “clamoring to keep the relaxed rules” or was quiet on the topic. In response to that, Vere said:

“I think everyone’s fairly quiet at the moment, because of course, it doesn’t run out until April. So we will go out again in due course to see whether it needs to be extended, keeping it under review. We haven’t made a decision on it.”

The Baroness added:

“it’s much quieter out there. So there’s less of a need for cabotage. So I’m not aware that there’s a clamor to keep it at this time.”

A committee member then pointed out that companies like to plan ahead and may appreciate clarity on whether the relaxed rules would remain. To that, Vere replied: “I’m content to leave it for a few more weeks before we approach industry again to see if it’s working.”

Back in November 2021, Trans.INFO learned that Girteka Logistics, the largest asset-based transportation company in Europe, had “definitely increased” its workload in the UK as a result of the cabotage relaxation. The admission from the logistics giant suggested that major European haulage firms could indeed taking advantage of the new rules.

At the time, Šarūnas Stanislovėnas, Head of Sales and Marketing at Girteka Logistics’ European Business Unit, told Trans.INFO:

“We welcomed the change of cabotage rules in the United Kingdom, as it allowed us to fulfill our customer’s expectations in the domestic market easier than it was previously. Furthermore, we now have the foundation upon which to build upon long-term agreements, until the relaxed cabotage rules will last, and provide stability for our customers in their UK supply chains that are currently experiencing difficulties in delivering goods to final consumers due to the driver shortage. For us, it’s a guarantee that sending one of our trucks will provide tangible results and that we would not have to send a loaded truck to the UK and send it back to Europe without generating any revenue either in the UK or on the way back.”

Some British haulier have nonetheless been more than displeased about the cabotage relaxation. One of those is Broughton Transport Solutions Ltd, run by Toby Ovens.

Writing on Facebook in late October, the company reacted to the government’s decision as follows:

“Today the government’s decision to extend cabotage rights to foreign hauliers has shocked me. For weeks we have heard Boris Johnson talking about getting wages up, why then allow foreign vehicles with some drivers earning in a month what out drivers earn in 1-2 weeks come and take over our roads. Foreign vehicles don’t have to abide by the same road safety laws as us, the state of some of the vehicles on our roads is atrocious and completely unsafe, today our government has put road users lives at risk. I suggest this has been done following pressure from business leaders who are trying to keep their costs of transport down. These vehicles will run round the country with drivers not contributing national insurance, no road tolls, not paying fuel duty and not paying parking in services. They will not contribute anything to the UK economy.”

Keen to find out what the retailers think regarding the possibility of an extension, we approached the British Retail Consortium for comment. Andrew Opie, Director of Food & Sustainability at the BRC, told Trans.INFO:

“While we would welcome further relaxation of cabotage rules to help ease the driver shortage, the benefits would be limited at this point. More important is for the Government to find a long term solution to the shortages that currently exist in logistics and other parts of the UK supply chain.”

Photo: © Copyright Christopher Hilton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

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