Diversity critical to UK port preparedness

The UK’s Member of Parliament representing ports has talked up the importance of diversity when it comes to meeting the challenges coming the port sector’s way.

Nusrat Ghani, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the UK’s Department for Transport, said at the UK Ports Conference 2018 that it is “impossible to meet many of the challenges that the port sector faces in isolation”.

She pointed to challenges influenced by broader economic changes, including the fourth industrial revolution, rising populations and global politics.

The government has already confirmed that its drive to create a long-term strategy for the nation’s maritime sector, Maritime 2050, will include a focus on ports. Ms Ghani described the project as an “opportunity for us to truly create a fully sustainable, long term future for UK maritime, including ports”. She added that as an industry, much time is spent thinking about how many boxes can be fitted on a ship, but now we need to “think outside the box”.

“This is the first time for a generation that we have taken a step back and examined specifically the links between ports and the wider transport network; looked at how port connectivity has been considered historically; understood port development plans; considered past, present and future government investment; and identified key pinch points to build our evidence base.

“We have also taken a look at cultural and systemic issues that are potentially affecting the profile, priority, and perception,” she said.

Ups and downs

While the study found positives, some findings were less encouraging, including noting a lack of regular engagement between ports and government in some incidences. Also, poor understanding of the port sector has meant that they have not always been at the forefront of wider planning considerations.

Ms Ghani conceded that government, too, could be more joined up. In response to that finding, the government’s maritime modal connectivity and modal freight teams are to form a holistic virtual freight team to seek to ensure that the needs of ports are captured and included in future investment decisions by default. Government will also set up regional stakeholder sessions on port connectivity.

“I’m very confident that we can achieve our aims,” Ms Ghani said. “There is now a strong foundation and a plan on which to build, but we must remain committed to working together even more closely. We know what we have to do, I look forward to working with you to help the UK ports industry grow and flourish.”

Ms Ghani offered parting advice for UK ports, urging them to send one clear message on what they need government to do. “You have to raise your profile, you need your voice heard at the top table,” she said.  

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