'We'll pull out all the stops to keep the UK a world-leading maritime centre', says Chief Secretary

Greg Hands at London International Shipping Week.

The Rt Hon Greg Hands MP

Good morning – I’m delighted to join you all, on behalf of the government, at London International Shipping Week. And thank you, Alan, for that kind introduction.

I am the Chief Secretary to the Treasury – number 2 to George Osborne, and part of the team responsible for making sure that Britain’s economy is in the best possible shape to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

People don’t necessarily think of the Thames as a working river – but, of course, it is. We should never forget that our rivers and our ports are important economic assets.

They let goods reach customers up and down the country.

They deliver raw materials to our factories.

And they help our companies succeed in global markets.

Everyone knows about Britain’s proud history as a great maritime nation.

Yesterday we celebrated a momentous point in our history: HM The Queen overtaking Queen Victoria as the longest reigning British monarch.

The fact that the Thames played a major part in the celebrations, as it did in the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, is significant: it’s been a real source of British prestige throughout the years.

Britain’s success, however, has always been derived from combining the best of the old and the new.

We can’t rest solely on the past. And in shipping, I believe the future can be equally glittering.

And my very simple message today is that the British government will pull out all the stops to keep the UK a world-leading maritime centre.

The past decade saw turbulent economic times globally. As we have seen in recent weeks, we have not yet – if you’ll excuse the maritime expression – reached calmer waters.

Falling oil prices, the slowdown in China, continued woes in the Eurozone and instability in the Middle East are conspiring to make this a tricky time: in all probability, a tricky decade.

Britain, as an open and outward-facing trading nation, is not immune to these risks. But there is a way to manage them; and that is to put our own house in order, and keep on concentrating on securing our own economic recovery.

Our philosophy as a government is that, if you are serious about long-term growth, there are several things you have to do.

You have to boost job creation and enable growth – all over the country.

You have to seize opportunities as they arise – particularly in international trade.

You have to make yourself as globally competitive as you can be.

And if you’re lucky enough, as we in the UK are, to be a major player in particular sectors, then you play to those strengths.

That’s the basis on which the government has grounded the UK’s economic policy since 2010, and it’s the basis on which we will continue to govern.

The maritime sector ticks all of these boxes.

As a sector, it supports hundreds of thousands of jobs across the UK – with significant regional clusters of expertise, and major recent private sector investments in Felixstowe, Southampton, London, Hull, and Liverpool. I mention Hull and Liverpool in particular – because they will be key to helping deliver our Northern Powerhouse, the programme for rebalancing the British economy.

As I’ve alluded to, shipping facilitates the overwhelming majority of our international trade.

It’s a growing industry: global seaborne trade is predicted to double by 2030, most of it outside Europe.

And it’s an area in which the UK is already world class.

Our geography helps, of course: we’re an island nation, and our location means we can do business with both sides of the world in the same working day.

But that’s not even the half of it.

Our quality flag, attractive tonnage tax regime, strong competitive ports, innovative engineers and world-class maritime training programmes, together with a stable regulatory framework and an attractive commercial environment – all of these combine to make the UK a great place to do maritime business.

Down the river, we have the City of London and Canary Wharf – the best places to do business in the world;

  • the world’s leading international financial market
  • globally number 1 in trading foreign exchange and derivatives
  • the pre-eminent Western location for emerging Asian markets like renminbi, Indian Rupees, other currencies and Islamic finance
  • a centre of excellence for insurance, for reinsurance, for asset and wealth management, and for a wide range of legal, accounting and other professional services

As well as being a global financial powerhouse, the City is home to a one-stop shop of maritime professional and business services on which the global industry can continue to rely.

And we are always looking at how we can make our offer even stronger.

Earlier this week, we published Lord Mountevans’ Maritime Growth Study report – which sets out how government and industry can work together to keep the UK at the forefront of the global market.

We’ll be responding formally in due course – but one recommendation we are already taking forward is the formation of a Ministerial Working Group for Maritime Growth.

Our Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, will be chairing its first meeting.

This Working Group will drive forward the recommendations made by the Maritime Growth Study, in parallel to the recommendations made for industry.

In particular, our officials will be looking at how to place government services – such as the UK Ship Register – on a more commercial, customer-focused basis. So watch this space, and I know the Working Group will be very keen to hear industry views.

One of the key elements of maritime growth is, of course, marine technology. Many of the world’s most advanced and ambitious maritime projects originate here in the UK – from sluices to submarines to superyachts.

To make sure we keep ahead of the game, our Technology Roadmap will set out our ambitions for the marine technology sector, onwards to 2030.

Already, we are investing in marine innovation: for example, by match funding £24.5 million of collaborative research since January 2013, and by providing £4 million of funding towards a Centre for Maritime Intelligent Systems in Portsmouth.

This roadmap will look at how we can maximise our capabilities and expertise in the future – and continue our traditions of excellence in design, innovation, and build quality.

Alongside this, we are committed to investing in the skills we need to keep our maritime workforce world class. We’re already home to the largest number of maritime training institutions in Europe, but we know we can do more. Apprenticeships are key to this: we’re committed to supporting three million apprenticeships across the UK, with particular emphasis on technology and engineering.

So if you want a rapidly expanding, skilled, ambitious workforce, then Britain is the place to be.

My final point is that all this is part of our long-term economic plan.

Crucial to this is improving our national productivity. That’s one of the areas we as a government are particularly interested in at the moment. Indeed, some of you might have come across our Productivity Plan, which we published in July.

In very broad terms, what you’ll be seeing over the next few years is much greater investment in our UK physical infrastructure; much more economic regeneration beyond London and the south-east; a real drive on boosting British exports; and a continued strong voice calling for free trade worldwide.

Of course, all of this creates opportunities in the shipping world.

Better infrastructure means lower freight costs. Regional growth breathes new life into our regional ports. And if we’re exporting more goods overseas, then it’s on ships – your ships – that those goods will get there.

So there are exciting times ahead – and we’re making sure that Britain is best placed to make the most of them.

I hope that this is a productive conference – and that you will enjoy seeing what we in London and the UK have to offer, as a world-leading, dynamic maritime centre.

Thank you very much.

Published 10 September 2015