News: Maritime UK Chair addresses British Ports Association Conference

David Dingle CBE speech to BPA Conference, Dover, 3 November 2016

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour for me to be a guest of the British Ports Association on board Marco Polo here in Dover this morning, which just happens to give me an ideal opportunity to get in an early plug for cruising, which as you know is my day job in the few hours which Maritime UK lets me have back!

We are talking this morning about driving economic growth and success in the British maritime sector, and there is no better example of this than the cruise industry which goes from strength to strength.  This is a market which has enjoyed constant growth for some 25 years now, has a new ship order book approaching $50 billion in value and unfailingly delivers strong returns and societal benefits every year.  Approaching 2 million cruises are sold each year in this country, with over 50% of those guests sailing from UK ports.  At the same time, British ports are becoming increasing popular with cruise passengers from overseas, bringing ever more in-bound tourism and supporting thousands of local jobs.  This is but one example of what the maritime sector can achieve, the opportunities which await us and just how much we have to promote and protect.

These are exciting times for our maritime sector, due in no small part to our very own Shipping Minister who, in his first term in that post, had the great wisdom and foresight to initiate the Maritime Growth Study, recognizing that in the immediately preceding years there had been plenty of talk and not enough action.  British maritime was there to be gripped and shaken, and I thank the Minister for his leadership and welcome him back to his second term in this vitally important role.  

And that role has rarely been more important.  Not only do we have the Growth Study recommendations to fulfill, but also we have Brexit to grasp, ensuring that we do not inadvertently throw away the baby with the bathwater, and exploiting every opportunity for expansion and growth in the post-Brexit world.  

And rarely has there been a more communicative and collaborative relationship between Industry and Government, spawned by the launch of the Maritime Growth Study and brought to life by the commitment of Ministers, officials and leaders across the ports, shipping, manufacturing and services elements of the maritime industry.  

Quite simply, there has never been more for us to debate and create together.  The joint government/industry dialogue is a true partnership with shared goals and objectives and a strong desire to succeed.

The Maritime Growth Study is built on five specific pillars – joined up industry, joined up government, an enabling and customer-focused ship registry, a commitment to maritime skills and career development and the active promotion of maritime both at home and, crucially, overseas.  But importantly these pillars underpin a whole which is far greater than the sum of the parts – that is the support and development of the whole of Britain’s maritime cluster through mutual help and a strong single voice.  The Growth Study, too, is a living document to which we have already added new emphases and subject matter, not least Brexit, and  which is subject to regular review.

The Growth Study recognized the need for an industry promotional body which would also act as the Government’s primary interlocutor. Maritime UK was poised to take on this role, having been established eight years ago as the “one voice” of the maritime sector.  

From the beginning Maritime UK comprised the shipping, ports and maritime trade associations, and not long ago it extended its reach to include the marine manufacturing, repair and leisure craft industries which represent another very significant voice.  Other large organizations have yet more recently joined and we are now beginning to draw in the plethora of established and emerging regional bodies.  Maritime UK was built by its members and operates for its members, and depending on the nature of any particular issue it will assess which members are most impacted and most able to represent industry.  In return Maritime UK is there to use its collective strength in support of any one part of the maritime cluster.

Maritime UK is now highly inclusive, properly funded and led by an active Board supported by a fully-manned secretariat.  In parallel, Government has made unprecedented moves to act as one through a new Ministerial Working Group, a Maritime Strategy Committee and a highly focused delivery team in the Department for Transport which works closely with Treasury and the newly formed or reconfigured BEIS, DIT and DEXEU.  Industry and Government officials are in day-to-day contact and are co-creating a planned renaissance of Britain’s maritime cluster.

An early win has been to kick off the reform of the UK shipping registry, which began as a parallel project to the Growth Study and now sits firmly within it as Industry continues to act as adviser and interlocutor.  To drive this change, the MCA has already established the position of Ship Registry Director and most recently has announced the appointment of a non-executive chairman.  Both positions are designed to inject commercialism and change.  A dynamic and internationally renowned ship registry is a fantastic shop window for British maritime and encourages shipowners to look to this country for an end-to-end shipping services offer.

Skills and career development are critical across the maritime sector, particularly in order to increase the number of trained seafarers available to come ashore to add maritime experience to industries ranging from ports to manufacturing to legal, insurance and classification services.  Project Ulysses has already identified the skill gaps we need to fill to prepare seafarers for coming ashore into those critical roles.  At the same time, our highly productive government/industry dialogue is allowing us to examine more openly and collaboratively how we can invest more in attracting and training more recruits to the maritime sector.

Lastly the Growth Study focuses on promotion, most particularly the need to drive the export of UK-manufactured marine goods and the attraction of inward investment into shipping and infrastructure.  Attracting ships into UK ownership brings huge volumes of direct and indirect employment whilst infrastructure investment will increase the efficiency of our logistics chain at a time when Britain will need to export for more than ever before.  And in turn, we recognize that more exports and more trade are good for ports, which is good for jobs and local communities all around the coast of Britain.

So, ladies and gentlemen, everything is beginning to go swingingly, and then along comes Brexit.  If ever we needed any more drive and purpose, this is it.  Suddenly the Growth Study recommendations have acquired far more importance and urgency, many things which we had taken for granted need fighting for and at the same time opportunities are growing before our very eyes.  And the good news is that through the close relationship between Government and Industry we are already superbly well organized to tackle the issues.

The Growth Study, which of course preceded the Brexit vote, was intended to act as a catalyst for the renaissance of the British maritime sector, reaffirming its pre-eminence across the globe – an ambition which chimes with Brexit, you may say.  So let’s get off to the right start by making sure that in the course of Brexit negotiations, we do not inadvertently give away some of the pillars of our current and future success. And let’s at the same time begin to form our post-Brexit plans, ready for the time when we can more easily determine our own future.  And let’s straightaway make a start on the things we should have been doing anyway, Brexit or not.

Maritime UK has published its Brexit manifesto, harmonizing with and bringing together the manifestos of its individual members – once again a single industry voice to Government.

The first immediate action is to give added urgency to the delivery of the Maritime Growth Study.  People are its first foundation – making sure that we have the right caliber of people, in the right quantities and with the right skills, to ensure that we have a world-beating maritime capability.  

At the same time we have to create a more attractive, head-turning UK shipping register, more commercial and more customer-focused – a British maritime shop-window throughout the world.  And we have to drive the maritime export agenda on two levels – firstly, with 90% of the country’s trade being carried by sea, port and shipping investment is a strategic imperative in delivering post-Brexit prosperity, and secondly we need to maximize the export and inward investment opportunity that UK maritime as a whole offers, from building ships for customers across the globe to attracting far more ship ownership and management to Britain.  On this second point, I am very pleased with the dialogue which Maritime UK is developing with the new Department for International Trade, and on the first point I am constantly emphasizing in every corner of government the need to modernise the infrastructure which connects our ports with Britain’s manufacturing and distribution hubs – an investment imperative easily on a par with airport expansion and high-speed rail.  

The second action is put maritime at the forefront of the Brexit negotiation strategy.  Most crucial is the unimpeded movement of goods through our ports.  Right here in Dover we see the most remarkable throughput of lorries moving between the UK, Ireland and the Continent, an incredible growth story since the lifting of customs controls 25 years ago.  There are no controls which impede this essential engine of trade.  Assuming that we do not intend to cease trading with the whole of Europe, we must protect that uninterrupted flow of goods – we cannot entertain thousands of lorries parked up in our ports while they are checked, and the tail-back would make Operation Stack seem no worse than the Saturday morning queue at Sainsbury’s car park.  So even if the UK leaves the Customs Union, we need to replicate the current position through political agreements and/or the creation of new processes and systems.

There is a similar imperative in the movement of people.  Let’s not allow any anti-immigration fervor in some parts of society from impeding in-bound and out-bound tourism flows from cruise ships and ferries which year after year bring ever more economic benefit to our country.  

And let’s not impede the essential flow of highly skills workers from abroad entering the UK to work in support of the growth of our maritime cluster – after all maritime is the most global of all industries, and any Little Englander mentality will be hugely to its detriment.

At the same time, those negotiations must not pass up the opportunity to build a more flexible, more attractive Tonnage Tax regime in the UK which can stand up to growing Far Eastern competition for slices of the global maritime pie (although this is an issue which Europe as a whole will anyway soon need to address).  And the negotiations must bilaterally replicate a valuable set of Directives including the Parent-Subsidiary Directive and the Interest and Royalties Directive which currently provide a favourable structure under which UK-based businesses repatriate profits from European subsidiaries.  Otherwise an important incentive to establish corporate offices in the UK will be lost, and furthermore we risk giving away much of what we already have.

Our post-Brexit goals are all about turning what initially appeared to be fearsome challenges into golden opportunities, clear of unnecessary restrictions and bureaucracy.  They are about revived exports, exponential growth in trade and a fast-growing ship register, supported by a an enlarged and highly-training British workforce marching out across the globe to make our maritime cluster unassailable and the envy of the world. 

In summary, our maritime sector is now in a good place to get to a much better place. We have as our foundation the Maritime Growth Study strongly focused on our Flag, our skills base and the promotion of our maritime goods and services. We have a joined up industry voice and a listening and collaborating government.   And we are now looking at how we adapt to a new political order, how we manage the massive change which it will entail and how we capitalize on the new opportunities which it will create.  These are energetic and exciting times for our industry, ladies and gentlemen, and I hope that you all thrive in them.

Thank you