Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380
WEDNESDAY 21 MARCH 2001
380. Can I draw your attention to a paragraph
out of the evidence that you submitted when you say that the privatisation
of the port has not lived up to expectations. It questions whether
privatisation has in fact (as is claimed) led to improved performance,
arguing that "privatisation has worked against the current
Government's stated objectives, particularly in terms of `making
best use of existing port infrastructure'". That is page
38 of your submission.
(Mr Sealey) I think the classic example is Associated
British Ports, the first port which was privatised. If you look
at their performance in growth of tonnage going through their
ports compared with the growth of tonnage going through all the
United Kingdom ports, the growth rate of Associated British Ports
is less than the growth rate going through all the ports of the
United Kingdom. There are a number of instances in other ports
which have been privatised where the performance of tonnage going
through port has not equalled that of the industry as a whole.
381. You allege that they are not making best
use of existing port infrastructure. Give us an example about
(Mr Sealey) There are a lot of cases where you have
had infrastructure put in, partly because of competition to attract
shippers into a port, and if the shippers moved on to another
port then that infrastructure can be standing there and doing
nothing because the person it was designed to service has gone
382. Let me put another question to you. Which
are the most successful ports across the world and which are publicly-owned
and which are in private hands? Can you give us some idea on that.
(Mr Carr) Within this country the success of the publicly-owned
ports, they are commonly known as "slush" ports although
outside of the "slush" ports area are the municipally-owned
383. We need some names.
(Mr Carr) Poole, off the top of my head, and the Port
of London Authority, where we would say that the public side gives
the harbour master a public responsibility, a public duty to ensure
that the port and environs of the port are safe not just for the
transport of cargo and shipping traffic and everything else, but
for the public in general. We find that there is still a lot of
competition amongst the publicly-owned ports but we do feel that
the publicly-owned ports are certainly safer environments to work
in from our perspective in terms of worker representatives and
we feel that they are successful in looking after the environs
and public concern. With regards to European ports (and throughout
the world) many of which are publicly-owned, I think perhaps my
colleague Peter will answer that.
(Mr Landles) I work in the Port of Felixstowe which
has always been private. It is probably one of the most successful
ports in volume throughput, handling 2.9 million containers last
year. Our biggest threat in the port industry at this present
time is a draft piece of legislation which Mrs de Palacio, the
Commissioner in Europe, produced on 13th February which is advertising
basically that the ports in Great Britain and Europe will have
total and utter open access. The problem that we face in Great
Britain in the port industry is we have approximately 293 ports
up and down each side of country and at the bottom. Predominantly
on the Continent, ie Rotterdam in Holland, there are one or two
major ports, where the state has funded all the infrastructure,
unlike in England with the municipal port or private port there
is virtually nil. So the problem that is facing the British port
industry at the present time is what effects this new piece of
legislation, which many people do not know about as yet, will
have on British infrastructure and private investment (because
there will not be any Government investment) and the problems
facing us, unlike in Europe where the state fund the infrastructure
384. Your evidence states, "... privatisation
has worked against the current Government's stated objectives,
particularly in terms of `making better use of existing port infrastructure'".
That is not correct, is it, in your case?
(Mr Landles) There were a number of ports which were
pre-privatisation and pre-abolition of the Dock Labour Scheme.
If you understand what is happening in the pre-Dock Labour Scheme
ports many dock workers were either sacked, made redundant, and
they brought in the use of casual workers, agency workers and
stevedore companies, and in many of those private ports today
it is predominantly private stevedore companies. In my opinion,
the standard of health and safety and training leaves much to
385. But not at your port?
(Mr Landles) Our port is highly professional, containerised
386. You have not said, Mr Landles, something
I wondered about. Is it true that Felixstowe did not have a lot
of investment before it was sold off and it needed considerable
amounts of money put in and it now has considerably better infrastructure?
Is that right.
(Mr Landles) No, Chairman. I have worked for the port
for the last 29 years and there has been investment through the
four companies that have owned us, some more than others, some
less than others.
387. So you are not saying that privatisation
(or a particular sale in the case of Felixstowe) produced an enormous
amount of investment from private industry?
(Mr Landles) No.
Chairman: I want to move on now. Mr Stevenson?
388. The UK Major Ports Group and NUMAST have
given evidence to us that indicates that they are convinced that
ports on the Continent are receiving state aid. When challenged
to bring forward evidence to back up these assertions as yet none
has been forthcoming. First, would you agree with the assertion
of the Major Ports Group and NUMAST about state aid to European
ports and, if you do, have you done research on this and can you
produce evidence to back up those assertions?
(Mr Carr) We give that assurance, Mr Stevenson. We
would be more than happy to submit written submissions. We did
not bring anything along today on that. We assumed, wrongly it
would appear, that you had it already. It is our perception from
our links with sister unions and other European groups to which
we are all affiliated that there are subsidies available to major
(Mr Landles) I can give you three classic areas of
development which have been built in the last ten years. The European
Delta terminal in Rotterdam was state-fundedwe will produce
the facts for youthere is the Port of Zeebrugge which was
built by the Belgians and cost 64 million or billion Belgian francs,
and presently there is a major port being built on the northern
European side of Germany, probably for commercial reasons because
a lot of work made in Germany goes out of Rotterdam and Hamburg.
Those three were certainly state-funded.
389. Where is that exactly?
(Mr Landles) It is not present yet.
Chairman: You will give us a note on that, Mr
390. The other thing that seems to be emerging
from the evidence is that it is extremely difficult to collate
statistics. We are really trying to determine just how efficient
our ports are in comparison with each other and in comparison
with their international competitors, not only in terms of efficiency
but in capacity. Have we got over-capacity? Are we under-utilised?
What is the situation? How many people are effectively employed
in our ports? What sort of investment is going into our ports?
It is emerging, as far as I am concerned, as an area of great
difficulty in getting information that would address those questions.
(a) would you agree with that and (b) if so, have you got any
evidence that you would like to put to the Committee in those
(Mr Carr) On the point of a) yes, we agree with it
wholeheartedly and in fact are quite critical of the statistics
that are available to all of us. Equally, we view, as I am sure
you do, as important the existence of statistics in order to plan
for the future and to make the kind of decisions that this Select
Committee is here to make. On b) I would like to bring in my colleague,
(Mr Sealey) The lack of statistics is an historic
problem within the port industry. It has been an on-going problem.
Certainly the research I have done in the early 1970s was indicating
there were real problems with the amount of information available
compared to other industries. For example, in the bus and coach
industry the amount of data there is far more than within our
industry. Even at the most basic level on what levels of employment
are within the ports is incredibly difficult to get hold of. The
latest information we have came from British Ports Industry Training.
They have done a survey recently which had a 34 per cent response
rate, but that was done by a training organisation. There are
no Government figures. Even the Labour Force Survey cannot pick
up how many people are employed.
391. This seems to be a significant gap that
needs to be addressed. Has Government not got a responsibility
(Mr Carr) The problem with the Government responsibilityand
we are not critical of them at the HSE on the accident figuresis
that they have a standard industry categorisation system which
fails to pinpoint. In the port industry, if we wanted to look
at figures on cargo handling, that would be lumped in with the
marine and fishing industries and things like that. As my colleague
has said, we have to rely therefore on the likes of the Training
Board figures and indeed the PSO figures. But the PSO
(Mr Carr) Ports' Safety Organisation, I do apologise.
Those figures are only a sample of their membership; they have
393. Finally, are you saying for the record
that in terms of efficiency, capacity, employment, investment
in our ports, there is little or no information available through
whatever source, be it government or whatever, that would allow
a reasonable assessment of those critical areas in comparison
with European ports, for example? Is that what you are saying?
(Mr Carr) Yes, there is a lack of reliable figures.
(Mr Landles) The problem that we have is that since
privatisation there is now just a small number of big companies
who own a number of portsAssociated British Ports, Forth
Ports Authority, Hutchison (?) Ports, of which we are a member.
The only time anybody will know we are investing is when we approach
to extend or build a terminal and you will have objections from
every society in the world objecting to the development. I know
for a fact we are in discussions for a possible half a billion
pound investment in the Port of Felixstowe and Harwich. There
is also a major development being proposed at Dibden Bay at Southampton.
However, we only found out where the possible investments are
taking place through our contacts within the trade union movement
and through our fellow colleagues. Like I said earlier on, I think
a lot of investment by the British ports will be under consideration
and put on hold until they see the effects of this new legislation
394. Do you monitor your membership levels within
the docks sector?
(Mr Carr) Yes.
395. Is it increasing or is it decreasing?
(Mr Carr) There was a slight increase in the last
quarter. I think if you are taking about the long term in the
docks industry it is very much decreasing.
396. Has casualisation been the reason for that?
(Mr Carr) Yes.
397. What do you do about casualisation?
(Mr Carr) We seek to organise within the dock systems.
My colleague, Mr Landles, has already told you that there are
295 ports around the United Kingdom. At a guess I would say we
possibly organise in no more than 50, maybe 60, of those ports.
The difficulties we have in organising in the other ports that
we do not organise in are caused by the casualisation aspect of
it. It is very difficult to enter a port. We would readily agree
with that on safety grounds but we fail to gain access to people
and we very seldom see people coming to the unions for help because
casualisation, as we are well aware, does breed an aura of fear
and victimisation and they tend fear that if they are seen to
be going to be union there will be grave consequences.
398. Is there monitoring of accidents within
ports to which you would have access in terms of health and safety?
(Mr Carr) Prior to today's meeting we thought we would
attempt to have a snapshot view of that. The information we have
is not on accident statistics but on claims that our members have
made, which I think gives an indication of the most serious accidents.
Clearly our members
399. Would it help you if there was the right
in statute that every port within the land had to produce figures
of the accidents that there are in these ports in order that you
could look at these figures? I am clearly of the opinion that
with casualisation of labour that what you breed is an untrained,
unskilled workforce and in these circumstances you are bound to
haveit almost follows like night follows dayan increasing
level of accidents.
(Mr Carr) Yes. I understand there is a legal requirement
through the Reporting of Incidents and Dangerous Occurrence Regulations
to report those. But the problem I think I indicated before, Mr
Donohoe, is the standard index, the industry classification. The
HSE do provide accident statistics and their figures are public
knowledge but we find that they are not narrow enough to give
us an indication of the true figure.