ESPO identifies key trends in port governance

Independent management, masterplanning and digitalisation are among some of the trends in EU port governance highlighted by the European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) in its 2016 Fact-Finding Report.

According to the report, most port authorities in Europe remain publicly owned. Full ownership by the state or by the municipality remains predominant, while only a few port authorities combine ownership of different government levels. Mix public-private ownership, meanwhile, is still much rarer and exists in just a few European countries.

The report noted, however, that seaports are moving towards more independent private-like management. “Compared to 2010, more port authorities are structured as independent commercial entities and operate in a commercially-orientated manner. In 2016, they account for 51%of the respondents. Next, 44% or port authorities are still independent public bodies with their own legal personality and different degrees of functional and financial dependency from the public administration,” it said.

Seven out of 10 port authorities consider themselves as mission-driven entities where cost recovery or profit is a must, added the report. Fifteen per cent classify themselves as non-economic public bodies run with general interest objectives, while the rest declare to be profit-maximising companies, reinforcing the idea that port authorities have a mixture of economic and non-economic objectives.

The survey also examined the role of port authorities in bringing innovation into the port and found that two thirds of respondent ports are looking for new business models and opportunities for the port authority. Two thirds of port authorities also partner in innovation projects with customers, port operators or other companies as a way to stimulate the uptake of innovative solutions in the port.

The adoption of emerging technologies and digitalisation is also taking off in the port sector, with 60% of port authorities active in this field.

“It is remarkable that already one third of the ports are working to create an innovation ecosystem in the port, bringing together resources and actors in a favourable environment for innovation,” the report said.

These figures are based on a web-based survey that was sent directly to individual port authorities. Eighty-six port authorities from 19 EU member states, Norway and Iceland completed the questionnaire. Together, they represent more than 200 ports and 57% of the overall volume of cargo handled in the EU.

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