Regional Focus: Next steps in promoting UK maritime growth

In September 2015 during London International Shipping Week, the UK Maritime Growth Study was published setting out recommendations for keeping the UK competitive in a global market. Of course, a lot has changed since then, not least the decision to leave the EU. So it was necessary and timely to undertake a review of this strategy, which commenced in early 2017 and has recently published its findings.

Maritime UK said the original Maritime Growth Study was always intended to be a ‘living document’ and served its purpose to kickstart both Government and industry initiatives to encourage growth in the sector. But the review commented that it had become clear that a number of areas could have been more fully engaged in the process that produced the original report.

On a positive note, the review report said that it “still has great support within the sector as it sets maritime on a path to build growth, bringing long term benefits to the industry. Over the course of 2016 many of the recommendations were fully implemented and work begun on most of the others. Some of the necessary changes to working practices or new initiatives were and are complex so although work was underway early on, progress in those areas has been slower than hoped”. 

It also identified a strong improvement of collaboration between Government and industry. Specifically, “the rebadged and enhanced Maritime UK have contributed much to the building of this relationship. Industry have particularly welcomed the increased exposure to ministers. Maritime UK has become acknowledged as the lead organisation for the promotion of the sector as a whole”. 

In particular, the review said that the important recommendation for the transformation of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the commercialisation of the UK Ship Register (UKSR) has recorded progress in a number of areas including the separation of the Ship Register from its regulatory functions.

Progress has also been made in other areas, such as the completion of two studies on skills investigating the possible need for UK maritime personnel in the future and analysing Government training support. Further work is continuing, including on apprenticeships. 

The review also highlighted some areas of concern, such as about the general pace of delivery of the original recommendations, weak communication with those outside Maritime UK or London with a resulting lack of awareness about initiatives or progress, a feeling that the maritime sector is taken for granted, and the implications of leaving the EU, both positive and negative. It also said that greater clarity is needed about how success should be measured. 

Following the review, a list of top 10 commitments were identified as priorities to address these concerns. They include EU exit maritime planning, championing ports’ contribution to growth, increasing maritime growth communication and promotion, evolution of the UK Ship Register and MCA commercialisation, maritime skills, employment and education, supporting and encouraging maritime innovation, and looking even further ahead the proposal for the Maritime 2050 long term strategy for the maritime sector.

In late March, the Maritime 2050 strategy project took a step forward when UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling launched a call for evidence, which runs to 16th May. He also announced the appointment of the team to work with industry representatives and external experts in an effort to ensure the UK remains competitive in global shipping in future decades. Work will include autonomous ships and digital ports. 

The expert panel will be chaired by Hugh McNeal, Chief Executive of RenewableUK and will also include David Dingle, Chairman of Maritime UK; Lucy Armstrong, Chairman of Port of Tyne; Tom Boardley, Executive Vice-President at Lloyd’s Register; Michael Parker, Global Head for Shipping, Logistics and Offshore Industries at Citigroup; Martin Stopford, President of Clarksons Research and Sarah Kenny, Chief Executive of BMT Group.

Maritime 2050 will set out the challenges and opportunities to allow the Government and the UK shipping industry to plan for the long-term, encourage economic growth by giving certainty to investors, and is likely to include digital advances which can help make shipping more efficient, and the use of low-drag paint to reduce fuel consumption.

Mr Grayling said: “We want to maintain our position as a world leading maritime nation and working with the experts from within maritime, as well as those with broader experience, will help us ensure we take every opportunity open to this vital sector. Maritime 2050 is a once in a generation opportunity to set an ambitious vision for the future of this key sector and I encourage all of those who depend on shipping to have their say.”

There will have been some encouragement from the latest statistics from the UK Department of Transport showing that the UK Ship Register grew by 7% in 2017, the third consecutive year of growth with total gross tonnage reaching 16.2 million, the highest since 2012. This represents an 18% increase since 2014. In deadweight tonnage terms the UK registered fleet ranked 18th in the world. The actual number of vessels registered in the UK at the end of 2017, at 1,317 was almost unchanged from three years earlier.