Thank you for that introduction Charles (Charles Hammond, Chairman UK Major Ports Group (UKMPG)).
And thank you also for asking me along - I’m delighted to have this chance to meet with you this evening.
Facts are stubborn things
John Adams, second President of the United States, said, “Facts are stubborn things”.
And for me, the stubborn facts prove that Britain’s ports are a national asset:
- every year more than 500 million tonnes of freight and well over 20 million international passengers pass through our ports
- they account for over 95% of our imports and exports by volume
- and they employ around 130,000 people and contribute close to £7 billion to GDP (Oxford Economics Report 2011)
Our ports matter more than ever
Put simply, our ports matter.
And with Britain facing the most serious economic challenge in a generation, they matter more than ever.
Yes, you create wealth, jobs and growth right here at home.
And that contribution is absolutely vital to the health of our national economy.
But your economic importance doesn’t start and finish at our borders.
And that’s because you connect our country and our companies to new markets and new customers overseas.
Nobody has more experience, or more expertise, in accessing the global economy - seizing its opportunities, maximising its potential.
Working day and night so that Britain is always open for business.
Making sure we’re a top trading nation, as well as a leading maritime nation.
That’s who you are. It’s what you do - better than anyone.
And it’s why you are key players. The people and the firms who can help Britain out-compete and out-produce the rest of the world.
An evangelist for the ports industry
I know I have a tough act to follow in my predecessor Mike Penning.
I’m sure this audience will agree that Mike was a vocal and effective champion for this country’s ports.
Well I want you to know that I’m determined to pick up where Mike left off by being an evangelist for your industry.
So be in no doubt:
- trust port or private company
- small, medium or large enterprise
- north, south, east or west
I will be on your side.
The name on the ministerial door may be different.
But our strategy and our policy for the maritime sector remains exactly the same.
The right environment to grow and succeed
So I’m looking forward to visiting many of the ports you represent, to see for myself how they are coping in what remains a difficult trading climate.
I know these are tough and testing times
But, as always, your members have been equal to them
For me, the fact that UK ports increased their total traffic by 1.5% last year is a huge achievement when set against the backdrop of continuing worldwide economic difficulties.
I believe that suggests your members are well placed to benefit as the economy picks up.
And, with interest rates at their lowest for generations, now is a good time for stable, profitable businesses to invest for the future.
But this government knows that we must play our part too. And there are 2 main strands to this:
- creating an environment in which ports and maritime-related business of all kinds can succeed
- making sure that the infrastructure for which government has direct responsibility complements and supports the work you do
That’s why we’re supporting major container port developments like those already under construction at Felixstowe, London Gateway and Southampton.
This is crucial if these ports are to welcome the largest container vessels which are coming into service.
These ships have the choice not to call in Britain at all if the infrastructure isn’t there.
But these investments will help make sure that as many deep-sea boxes as possible are delivered directly to this country. And that the country is ready for recovery and growth in trade in manufactured goods.
To which UK port will they come? That’s up to you. I’ll be as interested as anyone to see how the competition in this sector plays out.
And others will follow. Liverpool, Bristol, Dover and Teesport also have the necessary consents to expand their businesses.
But beyond the container sector, it’s imperative that every port is able to pursue a vision for the future - whether that’s responding to the opportunities brought by offshore energy, or it’s tapping into the potential of the tourism and leisure market.
So, regardless of the business model or maritime market your members choose, I want to make sure the government creates the right environment for them to grow and prosper.
Better infrastructure, less regulation
To create that environment we’re absolutely committed to investing in the strategic roads and rail infrastructure that serves UK ports.
This includes far-reaching improvements to the rail freight network…as part of a £9.4 billion rail investment package announced this summer.
Among the new initiatives is a high capacity ‘electric rail spine’ running from the south coast ports to the West Midlands and Yorkshire.
We are also looking at ways to relieve the congestion on road routes to and from ports
So, for example, we’ve set out a major scheme to boost the capacity of the A14 linking Felixstowe with the midlands and the north,
This is one of the most crucial arteries for goods coming into the country and - together with measures to boost rail freight - this modernisation will help ease the flow of traffic around one of our biggest ports.
We are also removing the barriers you face so you can do your job efficiently and profitably.
As well as being responsible for ports and shipping, I also have the title ‘Minister for Better Regulation’ within the DfT.
Well I want you to know that I also regard myself as ‘Minister for Less Regulation’.
So believe me, if I find suffocating red tape that’s getting in your way and slowing you down, I will cut it.
And where there are regulations which add no value, I will scrap them.
So, while we’ve already run through the Red Tape Challenge formalities, here’s a challenge that remains open to you: let me know where there is still any redundant regulation and I will try to get rid of it.
In conclusion, the case I’ve put this evening is that our ports have a front and centre role in the life of our nation:
- boosting jobs and growth in Britain
- acting as international gateways for trade and travel
- helping us transform our economic prospects
But then you have always been fundamental to this country.
Yours is the industry that helped turn a small island nation into a major global player.
An industry with a proud story to tell
But also an industry with a great future.
That’s why it’s a pleasure to be here this evening.
And that’s why I look forward to working with you all in the months and years ahead.