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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 369 - 379)




  369. Good afternoon, gentlemen. Can I welcome you to the Committee. It would be very helpful if you would introduce yourselves for the purposes of the record.
  (Mr Carr) Thank you. My name is Colin Carr and I am the Regional Industrial Organiser of the Transport and General Workers' Union based in Liverpool but with specific responsibility for the Docks and Waterways Trade Group. On my right is Peter Landles who is a dock workers' Convenor at the Port of Felixstowe and also the Vice Chair of the Transport and General Workers' Union. On my left is Roger Sealey who is the transport sector Researcher within the Transport and General Workers' Union.

  370. Mr Carr, did you have anything you particularly wanted to say first or can we go straight into questions?
  (Mr Carr) We can get on with the questions given the short space of time we have.

  371. I am very grateful to you. What do you think the role of major ports is in the economy of the United Kingdom?
  (Mr Carr) We see the role of the ports as one of major employers. I think in Mersyside, for instance, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company generates seven per cent of the workforce and in Felixstowe I think it is something like nine per cent of the workforce, and we recognise them as major employers within their own particular areas.

  372. Seven and nine per cent of what, Mr Carr?
  (Mr Carr) Of the workforce in and around Mersyside and Felixstowe.

  373. Is that registered males between a certain age? How have you estimated your seven per cent of the workforce?
  (Mr Carr) By adding the workforce which is involved in the dock and its environs, not specifically the MDHC in Liverpool, if I can use Liverpool as an example. If you look at the total employment on the dock estate itself and its environs you could say with reasonable accuracy that that generates seven per cent of the employment within Mersyside.

  374. Within the city?
  (Mr Carr) Those are rough figures, there is no scientific basis other than what I have said.

  375. We might come to that in a minute. What challenges do you think are offered by the role of the major ports and what are the difficulties they are going to face?
  (Mr Carr) We see their role as major employers but also as economic parts within the dynamics of the economic generation of the area that they serve. Also they have a wider economic dynamic about them in terms of their overall slot into the transport system and very often a major port, of course, would generate the inter-modal systems of road and rail which would naturally lead to the port in order to service the port in that way. As an economic entity they are extremely important within the region that they serve.

  376. So what challenges are they going to face?
  (Mr Carr) The challenges are competition in the main and in our view the challenges of becoming, what we would like to see them as, modern, progressive employers.

  377. Do they not compete at the moment with other ports?
  (Mr Carr) Yes, very much so. The cargoes that they attract in the main are generated by what the suppliers within the area or suppliers within the country wish to see entering and leaving the port. There are some aspects of course—again if I can use Liverpool as an example—where a lot of the imports coming in now are coal and steel and that has been because of the demise of the coal and steel industry within the country, but the competition is still there. There are a lot of ship owners who are very, very reluctant to enter into long-term arrangements with ports and, indeed, with the modernisation of roll-on roll-off cargoes or indeed what we call lo-lo, load-on load-off cargoes, many ports now are able to operate in that way and so there is a great deal of competition.

  378. So you are saying for a port like Liverpool, which is large and presumably once upon a time would have had facilities that others do not have, that the advantage is not there any more? Is that what you are saying?
  (Mr Carr) With containerisation and the roll-on roll-off concept.

Mr O'Brien

  379. Gentlemen, we all accept the importance of ports within the UK. How successful has the privatisation of United Kingdom ports been? What evidence is there that the ports have experienced low levels of investment, less efficiency and poor performance since being privatised? What evidence have we got?
  (Mr Carr) The evidence is in the drastic reduction in the labour force that came about from the abolition of the scheme. We are equally critical about the dynamics of what happened at that time and the cost to the taxpayer of course, but we also see it as an indicator of what the ports went through and in our view the cargo element did not rise. We viewed the cargo element rising in the throughput to the port purely and simply due to containerisation and the new concepts of inter-modal transport rather than the privatisation of the ports.

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