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Hope and headaches: The logistics of the 2012 London Olympic Games by Matthew Marriott, Commercial Director of Hellmann Worldwide Logistics UK

The London Olympics is coming to town – and it’s going to make the capital a tough place to deliver to. While the Olympics has the potential to provide British business with global exposure, publicity and opportunity, without proper preparation and management it might also pose problems and challenges that could cause chaos – and nowhere more so than in the context of logistics, freight forwarding and supply chain provision.

It is the logistics industry that will be faced with somehow managing to maintain road freight services amidst the extensive disruption and inevitable congestion that the Olympics will bring to UK infrastructure from the M25 and beyond. With this very much in mind, Nathalie Chapman, the Freight Transport Association’s (FTA) Head of Policy for London, spoke last summer of the ‘unique challenge’ that faces the logistics sector, and of the demand to ‘make more deliveries in a much tighter time frame’.

Furthermore, in July of last year, the FTA released results of a survey that found only 5% of the sector felt ‘totally prepared’ for the Olympics. A third of the sector felt ‘adequately prepared’, an even larger proportion felt ‘not at all prepared’ and a further third felt they had ‘no knowledge’ as to how the Olympic Route Network (ORN) would operate. Indeed, with only 1% of London roads due to have the ORN**, it is not clear if this will really have the congestion easing effect that it intends to. Widely covered in the media, and with a year still to go before the Games’ vaunted opening ceremony, you might think that such data would offer a serious wake up call to affected businesses. More than six months down the line, I’m still not sure that the wider industry has made the necessary preparations.

At Hellmann, we have spent the best part of five months planning and designing strategies to ensure that we can maintain the quality of our service and be part of that 5% of companies who feel ‘fully prepared’. We have conducted research that has brought the scale and scope of the expected supply chain disruption during London 2012 into sharp relief.

It’s estimated that congestion in the capital will increase by 30%, while average driving speeds on key routes will drop to just 12mph. Journeys through Greater London will take approximately 20% longer, with routes through the Core Games Network (which are the artery roads through the city) taking at least 30% longer. In addition, the London Olympic Committee (LOC), believes that there will be an extra 11 million visitors in London for the duration of the Games. To cope with the realities of these figures, Hellmann is increasing both its manpower and vehicle fleet considerably between the key dates of the 23rd July and 18th September.

In addition to the unavoidable extra time and scale required for efficient logistics provision during the Olympic period, it is also absolutely crucial to communicate the rationale of any supply chain constraints, or indeed surcharges, to clients. Although most will fully appreciate the rare difficulties that the Olympics presents to distributors, clients must still be kept in the loop in terms of both cost and timings so that they can align expectations with road freight realities. As part of Hellmann UK’s service during the Olympic period special care will be taken to ensure that the company maintains direct customer contact, communicating in a way that is key to delivery within agreed timeframes. We will be applying carefully assigned flat-fee surcharges (varied by the nature of the consignments) to any shipments that are destined for London postcodes as a means of controlling a potentially spiraling cost, but also to ensure that the quality of services provided does not drop during the crucial Olympic period.

If logistics companies fail to legislate for what are unavoidable and imminent changes to UK road freight operations, then companies will find that the Olympics will become seriously bad for business – stretching resources and budgets (not to mention customer patience) in a way that the industry simply cannot afford. From a macrocosmic perspective, the ability of industries such as logistics and distribution to make the Olympics fiscally beneficial is, to a certain extent, something upon which the UK’s gradual recovery from recession is predicated; giving what might be a niche industry concern a far wider gravitas.
The disruptions and demands of the coming year have been forecast, so it is in all of our interests, both as an industry and as individual companies, to ensure that we do not underestimate the immensity of the logistical challenges ahead.

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