THE ongoing consolidation process in the logistics and transport sector is really testing the Italian system, traditionally based on small and medium-sized enterprises. Misleading economic journalism has been trying to convince us that small businesses are able to adapt more easily to change due to their slender structures and their entrepreneurial genius. The reality is that since the 2008 crisis Italy has further lost competitiveness compared to the rest of Europe and our economy is growing far less than that of competing nations. We are the country with the largest number of enterprises: 4.4 million, compared with 3 million in France, 2.2 million in Germany and 2.3 million in Spain. Our manufacturing companies are twice as many as in Germany, which has a population of 20 million higher than ours and an 85 percent higher GDP which is also 80 percent higher than in France.
The answer lies in the immense difference in the number of companies with less than ten employees, which in Italy are almost treble. Contrarily in Germany, those with over 250 employees are threefold, while 90% of Italian companies have fewer than 20 employees. There continue to be more than one hundred thousand road hauliers alone. Having so many companies means neither having more employment nor greater productivity, but it creates an objective limit to the quality of research and development, internationalisation and export, training and safety as well as energy saving. In order to stimulate mergers, Minister Padoan has promised fiscal instruments that are still not well-defined.
The issue is not only about the competitiveness of businesses, but also about health, safety and environmental protection. Along with construction, the transport sector is the one that records the highest number of accidents in the work place. The management of interferences in the transport, logistics and handling of goods regarding safety and enterprise responsibility is one of the central issues of a highly articulated debate. This is dominated by some of the leading companies such as the PSA Voltri Prà container terminal at the port of Genoa, which over the last five years has been able to reduce work-related injuries by 85%, or shipping companies like d’Amico, which have enhanced an Integrated Management System that places primary importance on the issues of the quality of the services provided to customers, safety and health in workplaces, energy efficiency, environmental protection and social responsibility through the adoption of recognised standards and international certifications. In a complex world such as transport, reduction of interference is of particular importance; it is the sector in which the most attentive companies are investing effectively. These are huge problems, which require structures that cannot be supported by small structures. The small size of a company can only be acceptable at the initial stage, after which it is necessary to follow the growth and development model of large enterprises, because today’s industry needs adequate dimensions.
The fact is that in small businesses one produces less per employee, one works more but salaries are lower. In the shipowning world, the consolidation process has undergone a sharp acceleration over the last two years, while among port terminals this selection has resulted in new relationships of strength, which are decisively influencing the dynamics of the market. In Italy, the galaxy of freight forwarders and road hauliers has long sought appropriate tools for growth that enables companies to compete on a level playing field with European competitors who have long since consolidated large companies that control most of the market today. It is therefore necessary and urgent to return to building industrial policies that enable our enterprises to unblock the bottlenecks that are still limiting our competitive ability.