Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the British Ports Association and the UK Major Ports Group (FUS 4)


  1. This response is made on behalf of the British Ports Association and the UK Major Ports Group which, jointly, represent the overwhelming majority of UK ports.

  2. Although the majority of the issues raised by the Sub-Committee are clearly matters for the shipping industry, we nevertheless have a particular interest in the future supply of marine skills which, to a large degree, depends on the viability and success of the UK fleet. The dependence of the UK ports industry on the UK fleet needs to be put into context. Total port traffic over the past few years has been rising on average by about 1.5-2 per cent annually. The UK ports industry, which handled 558 million tonnes in 1997, is by some way the largest port industry in Europe. In spite of these rises we have seen over the period 1986 to 1997 a fall in the number of UK owned vessels by one third while dead weight tonnage has declined by 43 per cent. Although therefore there is little if any relationship between the strength of the UK fleet and the volumes of trade handled by the UK ports, we are nevertheless alarmed at the decline that has taken place over the last few years and believe that this threatens not only manpower resources in the future but also the government's declared programme of encouraging environmentally friendly forms of transport.

  3. To put into perspective the scale of port recruitment needs we have made use of a recent industry study which attempted to ascertain the number of marine related jobs in the industry. We found that approximately one in six employees require marine skills of one type or another out of a total workforce of about 25,000. The most in demand skills are for those of pilots, harbour masters and vessel mooring staff. The requirement for pure marine skills is probably declining as some of these roles are being filled by those with no or very restricted seafaring experience. Even so, there will always be a need for a hard core of personnel with specialised marine skills who understand the language of ships and are familiar with their requirements; this will always be a vital part of the safety network provided by a port. Although there is no immediate crisis in finding suitable personnel, the future decline of the UK fleet combined with the trends within the shipping industry for larger ships and fewer crew could become critical in the future.

  4. As to the government's objectives in the marine sector as expressed in the Transport White Paper, shipping is recognised as the most environmentally friendly mode yet in spite of this its share of the domestic transport market has gradually declined. This has been caused by the dominance of road transport and, more latterly, stronger competition from rail as a result of a combination of privatisation, substantial government subsidy and a favourable regulatory regime. Although it is unlikely that shipping will ever recover from land modes a substantial share of the market, there are nevertheless opportunities, some of which the maritime industry hopes to exploit through a restructured Freight Facility Grants Scheme. In this connection, we would also like to see serious and urgent consideration given to extending the 44 tonne lorry concession, currently only available to railheads, to be offered to ports as well.

  5. We suspect, although we have no hard evidence, that the decline of the UK fleet has influenced the decline of domestic shipping. The fact that ownership is in the hands of overseas operators must make co-ordination of effort more difficult and at times impossible. We believe that the proposals from the European Commission on transport charging could possibly help the cause of shipping by charging transport users the full cost of the services provided to them. These are long term issues, but if the Commission's proposals take effect and road and rail pay their full costs, including the cost of their environmental and other impacts, the commercial case for using shipping is likely to strengthen. We do not believe that there should be artificial tax regimes to distort the market between modes, rather that each mode should be able to compete on as equal a basis as possible.

  6. In summary, the UK ports industry looks to a viable UK fleet as a provider of a range of marine skills which will always be required in ports; the UK ports industry itself is vital to the UK's commercial activity and success. We are extremely concerned by the rapid decline of the fleet and its consequent impact on ports and would support reasonable measures to arrest this decline.

1 December 1998

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