As long as Britain remains a trading nation, the importance of our ports will only grow.
It’s great to be here this afternoon (9 September 2015), during London International Shipping week.
Shipping Week is our opportunity to show the strength of the British maritime sector.
And all the qualities that make Britain a maritime nation.
Our respected flag
Low-cost tax regime.
Expert maritime business services.
Cutting-edge training programmes.
And our stable regulatory framework.
But above all tonight: our ports.
Free to operate without excessive government regulation, they are among the most efficient in the world.
I am grateful to our hosts, the UK Major Ports Group and the British Ports Association, for organising tonight’s event.
You are great champions for the ports sector.
It’s a simple fact of geography that our ports matter more to our economy than to the economy of any other major country in Europe.
Even so, too few people understand that 95% of UK imports and exports are moved through our ports.
They directly support well over 100,000 jobs.
And indirectly support jobs in almost every other sector of our economy.
They make possible our motor industry.
Much of our defence and aerospace industries.
Our food and drink exports.
High value electronic goods in both directions.
So much of our tourism and fishing industries.
And support new energy supplies such as offshore wind, and biomass.
Everyone working in the ports sector is owed credit for this record of achievement.
And it’s a record maintained through investment, innovation and modernisation.
Through anticipating the needs of new customers.
And it’s not just the commercial ports.
It’s trust and municipal ports, too.
Ports which help local people get involved in the central feature of their coastal communities.
So UK ports have made a highly significant contribution to the economic recovery by facilitating trade.
Their contribution is so far-reaching it is hard to measure.
But has been variously estimated at £2 to £6.7 billion in gross value added.
And they are in an excellent position to continue growing in the future, with planning consents in place sufficient to accommodate millions more unit load imports and exports.
Signs of that recovery and growth are clear.
Although we are carefully watching developments in Chinese markets, recently published figures for 2014 show a 6% year-on-year growth in unit load traffic, and overall throughput continues at 500 million tonnes per year.
Such a thriving sector is supported by a strong partnership between Government and Industry.
The joint Strategic Partnership Plan with the ports sector was launched at the inaugural Shipping Week in 2013.
It’s a striking example of how well government, industry and trade union partners can achieve common goals for the benefit of an entire industry.
The Maritime Growth Study published this week challenges us to reinforce that strong partnership.
To ensure the UK retains its place as a world leading maritime centre.
We want to keep up the momentum.
Because running a port is never free from challenges.
The scenes at Calais have shown how important it is for the UK to ensure our ports are safe and secure, and how quickly the effects are felt when one of our ports is disrupted or closed.
The UK continues to work with its French counterparts to strengthen the security of the border to stop illegal immigrants entering the UK.
And then there’s the port services regulation.
I share your concerns.
And I know how important it is that the UK takes a firm hand in Europe.
We need fairer competition between ports, not greater regulation of their internal operations.
The UK has played a key part in the progress that has already been made since the initial proposal.
And we will continue to work in the interests of British ports and shipping, and of their customers, in future negotiations.
So those are some of the topical challenges.
But we’ve come through far greater challenges in the past.
And the ports sector can be confident that its importance will never diminish; as long as Britain remains a trading nation, the importance of our ports will only grow.
I want to thank you all for contributing to the success of our ports industry, and for making Britain’s maritime sector great.
I look forward to working with you all in the future.