Ports sector sceptical of GB£10m funding

Portsmouth International Port Ports will be able to bid for grants of up to £1m each. Image: Portsmouth International Port

The UK government has launched a GB£10m grants scheme to help ports adapt for Brexit, however port trade associations say more funding won’t make up for a no-deal with limited time left to prepare.

Ports across England can bid for a share of GB£10m as part of the Department for Transport's Port Infrastructure Resilience and Connectivity (PIRC) competition, to spend on infrastructure, but the British Ports Association (BPA) has said a deal is the best way to avoid potential disruptions at the border at this point in the process.

BPA chief executive, Richard Ballantyne, said that the BPA “remain firmly of the view that a deal that supports frictionless, free-flowing frontiers is the best outcome and as far as we are aware this is still the Government’s aim”.

The fund will allow ports to bid for grants of up to £1m each for infrastructure improvements to help prepare for potential new processes and possible congestion, but Mr Ballantyne said: “The industry is as ready as it can be for a ‘no deal’ although it is clear that this is about mitigating disruption at certain ports, not avoiding it.”

Echoing the BPA’s confidence in the industry’s preparations for 31 October, UK Major Ports Group (UKMPG) added that there is only a limited amount of time left to make changes, regardless of the amount of funding available, and pointed out that the funding itself has its limitations.

Tim Morris, CEO of UKMPG, said: “We welcome in principle all support for investment in ports. But we must be realistic about the extent of physical change possible between now and the end of October.

“The Port Infrastructure Resilience and Connectivity (PIRC) Fund could make a difference at some locations and circumstances, particularly if it applied to storage and areas adjacent to core port operations. But it can’t be seen as a silver bullet for the risk of no-deal disruption and £10 million should be seen in the context of the more than £600 million UK port operators invest each year.”

The government is also providing GB£5m to four key Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) - made up of emergency responders, councils and other public services - in areas with key freight ports. This is aimed at helping them build infrastructure improvements to minimise any potential traffic disruption at the border.

A further GB£15m will go towards longer-term projects to boost road and rail links to ports.

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