As an island nation, our ports are critical for trade

Why we need to invest in new seafaring talent if we are to boost maritime growth.

Robert Goodwill MP

Good Morning.

It’s a real pleasure to be here today (18 November 2015) and to be invited to speak at what is an exciting time for our maritime industry.

In recent months, with the publication of the Maritime growth study recommendations and another hugely successful London International Shipping Week, we’ve been able to reflect on what makes this a great industry and what we can do to ensure it continues to flourish in the future.

Ports for growth

There are lots of good reasons for doing maritime business in the UK.

From the low-cost tax regime and widely respected training programmes, to our expert maritime business services and a stable regulatory framework.

This unique combination of strengths and benefits means that the sector directly contributes at least £11 billon to the UK economy. But its full contribution is almost impossible to calculate. Because indirectly, it supports every business and every job in the country.

And the most important link in the delivery chain is the ports sector.

As an island nation, our ports are critical. Keeping exports and imports moving. Functioning efficiently and safely – thanks to your dedication. And doing so without excessive government regulation.Their contribution to the economy has been estimated at up to £6.7 billion in gross value added (GVA). And they are in an excellent position to grow in the future.

Facing today’s challenges

But we are facing competition. Other maritime centres in Europe and the Far East are experiencing rapid growth. And they want a slice of our success. This presents numerous challenges to traditional maritime centres like the UK. But it also represents opportunity. Opportunity that we must grasp.

That’s why we commissioned the ‘Maritime growth study’ - the first study of its kind for more than 15 years. A complete review of the UK’s maritime industries. An analysis of how we fare against our competitors and how we should aim to contribute to the growth in global sea trade.

First of all the study showed how immensely proud we should be, not only of our maritime heritage, but also of our modern maritime industry, which is a tribute to you, the people whose skills and expertise have underpinned our success over decades, ensuring we are among the global leaders if not the global leader in producing seafarers of quality.

So I have to say a big thank you for your part in this.

But the world has changed significantly since the last review of this kind. One of the key conclusions from the study was that we should be looking across the whole sector if we are to properly support our maritime businesses in future and strengthen the sector. That means not limiting our focus to just shipping or ports, but broadening it to include manufacturing, technology and research, to consider all the marine industries as a whole.

We should also capitalise on our ability to offer a wide range of support, from insurance and arbitration in London, to research in Plymouth and Southampton and offshore energy in Aberdeen.

We have to develop our maritime clusters around ports such as Merseyside and Milford Haven, while investing to encourage development of new clusters.

This is key to attracting more businesses and more ship owners to the UK. Just as it’s key to rebalancing the economy and generating jobs nationwide.

The report also makes some important recommendations on how we can keep ahead:

  • stronger leadership - by the government and by the industry
  • promoting the industry effectively
  • and improving skills

We cannot take it for granted that we will always have a good supply of new seafarers. We need to invest in securing this talent if we are going to boost maritime growth.

So the study made several recommendations. A review of the SMarT scheme. A new skills strategy for the sector. Extending the programme of apprenticeships to widen the number of roles. Raising children’s awareness of maritime. And targeting schools and university career fairs to highlight maritime careers.

These recommendations were made to government and industry. We are now currently considering them carefully. And where we need to take action, I can assure you - we will.

International regulation

But alongside domestic measures, we also need an international focus. The world needs shipping, and that means governments must work together. Radically different rules for different parts of the world rarely make sense. Rival regulatory regimes tend to increase cost and inefficiency.

So we must ensure that in the years ahead we support effective international law. And the International Maritime Organization is the right forum for those efforts. While action from regional bodies to open world markets and support free trade should be welcomed, we must always seek a global response to produce a level playing field and avoid the distortions of regional rules.


So to sum up. Our ports remain absolutely vital to growth. And they will continue to be vital as long as Britain remains a trading nation. But there is still more to do to meet the challenges of the future as overseas competitors up their game.

The growth study recommendations have suggested areas for action. And we will act on them where they are necessary. But ultimately, government and the maritime industry are one team.

So I look forward to working with you to build on the past success of our ports industry and to ensure that the goals we share become our shared achievements.

Thank you.

Published 24 November 2015