Transport systems need to join to benefit freight

Working on all the parts can improve freight transport. Picture: Contributed
Working on all the parts can improve freight transport. Picture: Contributed
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OUR words need to be heard, not just our voices, says Martin Reid.

In December 1998, a report entitled “Shaping Scotland’s Parliament” was presented to the then secretary of state for Scotland.

This document outlined the development stages of what was to become the Scottish Parliament. It stated that “the Scottish Parliament should be accessible, open, responsive, and develop procedures which make possible a participative approach to the development, consideration and scrutiny of policy and legislation”.

I, along with representatives from other transport industry bodies have been able to contribute to this scrutiny.

On behalf of the Road Haulage Association (RHA), I gave evidence to the infrastructure and capital investment committee, helping them with their inquiry into freight transport in Scotland.

I was joined in giving evidence by representatives from the British Ports Authority (BPA), the Freight Transport Association (FTA) and the Rail Freight Group (RFG), and I have to say I very much enjoyed the experience. Although we ostensibly represent different modes of transport with often disparate wants and needs from government, I feel we managed to put across the fact that there is a real requirement for a holistic approach when developing transport systems for the country.

The questions the committee put to us allowed us to give the evidence from our respective mode’s point of view and highlight issues that may be peculiar to our own world. However, by the end I feel there was a palpable appreciation that, although we all have our individual needs, those needs do not necessarily have to be at the expense of another’s.

The RHA have member companies who have an interest in rail freight and we have an even larger section of the Venn diagram who are members of both RHA and FTA. We have an even greater number who deliver to and from ports across Britain and Ireland, and in many cases beyond, so an opportunity such as the one afforded to us at the committee can be refreshing and serve as a reminder that sometimes when looking at national matters, common ground can be a strength when dealing with government

This is not to say that any of the organisations compromised their message when promoting the needs of their own members.

On behalf of the road hauliers, I explained to the committee there is a real need for investment on developing the A1, the A82, A83 and A75 to name but a few. I pointed out the need for investment in rest stops, wash facilities and some roads that fall under the auspices of the local authorities.

The idea of “the last mile” was something that struck a chord with all four of us who were giving evidence. The need for consideration to be given to the last mile to and from a port, to and from a rail head, into a city centre, entering a low emission zone and even leaving a trunk road, was a point that we all stressed to the committee.

I like to think that it was not just the committee who increased their learning from this inquiry but that those giving evidence may have gained a greater understanding of the issues the individual sections of the transport sector face.

Although the differences will remain legion, through this exercise we perhaps have found areas of commonality that would benefit from us all putting our collective shoulders to the wheel.

The words of former United States president Richard Nixon came to mind, when he said: “We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another – until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices”.

Maybe now, as we go back to fighting our respective corners, the common ground and shared needs we identified at Holyrood will mean our words were heard and not just our voices – for the benefit of the Scottish transport network as a whole.

• Martin Reid is director, Scotland and Northern Ireland, of the Road Haulage Association www.rha.uk.net

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