Thanks in part to the rise of e-commerce, demands on the I&L sector have been growing for a number of years.  As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the critical nature of this sector has come sharply into focus and its importance in keeping the country running.  As shop closures, stockpiling and social distancing boost demand for product delivery, travel restrictions, labour shortages, warehouse space, limitations of “just in time” deliveries, and the sheer scale of online shopping hinder the network’s ability to rapidly scale up to cope with the increased demand.   

In the short term and on a practical level, a number of measures have already been put in place to try and keep logistics running as smoothly as possible during the current pandemic. UK Government has designated supply chain staff as ‘key workers’, and logistics companies have been implementing social distancing policies and providing PPE to protect their staff.

In the mid to long term, COVID-19 has the ability to significantly disrupt the industry and further accelerate change. 

I&L companies are becoming more creative in their use of resources.  This collective re-thinking of established norms is likely to have longer-term effects on how businesses in the sector operate.  The pandemic looks set not only to test the effectiveness of the UK’s existing industrial and logistics network, but also to further accelerate the shift towards online retail which we have seen over recent years.  This will require increased investment in the infrastructure and technology which the industry relies on, such as warehouses, distribution centres, and specialized storage facilities (often powered by on-site renewable energy sources) and in associated transport.  The use of new technologies is likely to come to the fore to meet these new challenges with increased demand for automation and robotics.

Whilst the pandemic gives rise to an immediate and urgent need to ensure supply chains remain intact, longer term there will be opportunities to improve efficiencies, lower reliance on carbon and increase sustainability.  This sector has to date been further progressed than others in its use of modern methods of construction (MMC), whereby components of buildings are pre-fabricated off-site to be assembled more quickly on-site. Expect this type of construction to further develop and expand in this sector, coupled with accelerated deployment of new technology, autonomous and electric vehicles and alternative fuel supplies (including renewables and hydrogen).  Increasing resilience in the supply chain to cope with global shocks can and should work together with the drive towards net zero.