By Daniel Hunter

Confidence amongst UK logistics providers has fallen with many expecting a worsening outlook, according to the latest Barclays and Grant Thornton UK Logistics Confidence Index.

The H2 2012 Index of 52.5 is down 10 per cent from the first half of 2012, showing a decline in confidence as consumer demand, margin pressure and fuel costs continue to be major areas of concern.

A continued challenging outlook is also predicted with the majority (42 per cent) of those surveyed stating they do not foresee business conditions changing over the next six months; and a further 41 per cent expect conditions to be somewhat more difficult or much more difficult — a 58 per cent increase from the first half year.

Despite the challenges the Index survey results show that there is still an overall optimistic view of 2013; with the majority expecting an increase in profits (52 per cent), headcount (37 per cent) and CAPEX spend (57 per cent) over the next six months.

In order to achieve future growth plans, almost half (49 per cent) will focus on winning new contracts and maintaining their existing client base (48 per cent), followed by cost control (39 per cent). A major element in achieving these goals will need to be a focus on real value-added opportunities in the long-term, such as innovative and differentiated services.

Innovation is a key differentiator in the industry, and many logistics providers are starting to put this high on their agendas. Over half (55 per cent) will be implementing new innovative supply chain solutions over the next six months with a further 19 per cent actively reviewing options. The two main areas of focus identified will be investment in IT (28 per cent) followed by collaborative solutions (24 per cent).

The majority of respondents believe there is still efficiency to be achieved through greater collaboration, however it is a lack of understanding by their customers that is restricting real progress in this area. 66 per cent of respondents believe manufacturers and retailers only understand to a limited extent the benefits of supply chain collaboration, whilst 23 per cent state they don’t fully understand at all.

“Logistics businesses have often been viewed as “commodity” type providers by their customers, and therefore the development and offering of new services across the entire supply chain will help to change this perception," Rob Riddleston, Head of Transport and Logistics at Barclays said.

"Greater opportunities in collaboration exist, but the challenge is getting the much needed buy-in and change amongst all customers.”

Contract terms is also an area of concern for logistics providers. 62 per cent believe commercial terms on contracts in the last six months for new business won, lost or tendered are somewhat less favourable or much less favourable when compared to previous, existing or similar contracts. This therefore adds further pressure to logistics providers’ margins.

Further to collaboration and innovation, many view greater consolidation in the industry is needed. Of those surveyed, 27 per cent are either likely to make or will be making acquisitions over the next six months, whilst 13 per cent are either actively reviewing or will make disposals.

“We anticipate further mergers and acquisitions activity in the logistics sector in the short-term driven by several factors - the need to achieve scale, geographic expansion and further service offerings in order to be able to offer end-to-end solutions for customers," Philip Bird, Director, Corporate Finance at Grant Thornton said.

'Open to Export' is a UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) initiative in partnership with hibu plc (formerly Yell Group).

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