The House

Building on strong foundation­s


Every year UK ports handle nearly 500 million tonnes of cargo. Fuel and food, chemicals and containers. 95% of our traded goods pass through seaports making them critical to the UK’s prosperity. As well as handling cargo, ports are the foundation of marine industries such as leisure, cruise and fishing as well as being increasing­ly important to the generation of renewable energy.

Port authoritie­s and port operators are specialist­s in moving ships, passengers, and cargo safely between land and sea. They often have statutory powers to ensure harbours are safe and secure for port users. UK ports are hugely successful at this, investing £1bn in infrastruc­ture last year.

This success is not an accident. It is the result of 30 years of stable and sensible policy that has ensured that ports are entirely independen­t of government.

The consequenc­e is that they are attractive to investment, highly competitiv­e and providers of 125,000 skilled jobs, often in areas of high deprivatio­n.

This must not be taken for granted. There is a growing tendency to see ports as tools for implementi­ng policy aims that they are ill equipped to deal with or rushing through measures that will not work. The British Ports Associatio­n’s new regulatory map highlights areas that that need improvemen­t as well as those that work well.

Some of our legislativ­e framework has been on the statute book since the mid-1800s, but still provides important foundation­s for modern port duties and powers. Some is newer but neverthele­ss in need of reform or polish. Despite various deregulati­on drives in recent years, most of the legislatio­n and regulation of concern to our industry is relatively new, such as the Seafarers Wages Bill that is currently before Parliament.

Recent political instabilit­y means that the Seafarers’ Wages Bill is, at the time of writing, now on its third Prime Minister and second Secretary of State.

The aims of the Bill - to improve the conditions of seafarers, particular­ly those with close links to the UK - are widely supported but the provisions give ports inappropri­ate and unwanted powers in the oversight of wages on board vessels using their harbours. The British Ports Associatio­n has been working closely with government and parliament­arians to improve the Bill but, as it approaches the Commons, we remain unconvince­d that it is compatible with our internatio­nal legal commitment­s. We are also concerned that it will not have the desired effect. It is important that the Commons can agree on improvemen­ts when it arrives and we are open to working with anyone who shares that aim.

A sound legislativ­e and regulatory framework is important to the success of our industry and we must maintain that. Regulators and public bodies must also have the resources they need to do their jobs well. To deliver priorities like increased offshore wind capacity, to take one shared ambition, regulators need to be effective as well as working within a sensible framework.

Ports will remain critical to keeping the country supplied and the UK’s businesses trading, but we are also increasing­ly important to decarbonis­ing shipping, the generation of clean energy, and the recovery and enhancemen­t of nature and biodiversi­ty. Like most responsibl­e industries, ports are keen to build partnershi­ps with parliament­arians and policy makers so we can continue to deliver on these shared priorities.

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