I am today (8 December 2010) announcing a package of measures relating to the maritime industry following the spending review and a recent review I have undertaken of light dues.
Shipping is important to the UK both as the means by which the majority of goods are moved in and out of the country and as a significant contributor to the UK economy in its own right. The government therefore wishes to see a strong and sustainable maritime sector for the future and to minimise the burdens the industry faces.
With this in mind, the government has listened carefully to the views of both the shipping industry and the General Lighthouse Authorities on the need for stability in the future level of charges set by the Department for Transport for marine aids to navigation.
In my written ministerial statement of 26 July 2010 [Official Report, Columns 75-76WS] on marine aids to navigation, I announced that the government does not intend to change the basis on which light dues are currently charged. I am now pleased to announce a commitment that there will be no increases in light dues for at least the next three years.
I am also inviting the views of the Lights Finance Committee, which includes representatives of the payers of light dues, on what an appropriate level of dues for the future would be that balances the need to reduce demands on the shipping industry with the need to maintain essential aids to navigation. I have asked the committee to report its conclusions to me by February 2011.
Sustainable economic growth also requires investment in training and skills. I am therefore also pleased to be able to announce that, despite the difficult public spending climate, the government will continue to provide a partial financial contribution towards the cost of training seafarers under the existing Support for Maritime Training Scheme, with the remainder of those costs being met by employers.
Within its spending review settlement the Department for Transport has been able to allocate some £12 million to support maritime training in the next financial year. I intend that the majority of this money should be focussed on supporting initial training for cadets studying at junior officer level (SMarT 1). I estimate that this will enable the department to contribute to the training of up to 1,000 new cadets starting their training during the next academic year. In order to provide reassurance, I can also confirm that we will make funding available beyond next year for all cadets starting SMarT 1 training in 2011/12, and those already undergoing SMarT1 training, for the duration of their studies to Officer of the Watch Certificate.
In addition, I intend that funding should also remain available next year for ratings training and for ratings to officer conversion training and I anticipate that some funding should be available to support the first instalment of SMarT 2 - helping those SMarT 1 officer cadets who are also working towards Foundation and other Degrees, Higher National Diplomas or Scottish Diplomas to complete their studies.
For the remaining parts of the SMarT programme, including SMarT 2 training beyond the first instalment, the government believes that in current circumstances it is more appropriate that the cost of this additional training should be met in full by employers.
During the year I intend to commission a review of the Support for Maritime Training scheme to consider the continuing requirement for government support for training and skills development in this sector and how best to spend any continuing government funding. I will report back to the House on the terms of reference for the review in due course.
In current fiscal circumstances, the government has also had to look hard at other areas of taxpayer support to shipping.
The current Crew Relief Costs Scheme (CRCS) provides limited financial assistance to shipping companies towards the cost of officers or ratings joining or leaving their ships abroad. Shipping companies gain many benefits from the employment of British officers and ratings and, in light of this, the government has come to the conclusion that continuing to provide commercial shipping companies with a subsidy to meet part of the costs of fares for seafarers can no longer be justified. The current CRCS will therefore cease on 8 March 2011. However, under the Merchant Shipping Act, the Secretary of State, with the consent of the Treasury, will still be able to provide financial assistance in respect of travel and other costs in exceptional cases. I am also inviting those with an interest in CRCS to submit suggestions for how the department may be able to provide non-monetary assistance to encourage the continued employment of UK seafarers.
The Department for Transport also currently provides a financial contribution towards the costs of the Confidential Hazardous Incident Reporting Programme for shipping (CHIRP) which provides an outlet for mariners to voice safety concerns. However, the scheme has not gained the traction hoped for in the commercial shipping and fishing sectors and there are other services established by the industry such as the Nautical Institute’s Mariners’ Alerting and Reporting Scheme. I have therefore concluded that the department should cease to provide financial support for this scheme at the end of this financial year. The department will work closely with the commercial, fishing and recreational sectors to see how confidential reporting opportunities might be provided in the future without financial assistance from government.