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Ben Murray, Director of Maritime UK, discusses the latest projects the organisation has been able to drive, in part thanks to the increased public profile enjoyed by the maritime sector since the EU referendum.

The past three years since the EU referendum have seen a rapid rise in the profile of our sector. For many years it was par for the course to bemoan the lack of profile for maritime in mainstream media and public discourse. Not any more. The public now better appreciate the fundamental role that our sector plays in enabling trade, driving growth in coastal communities and in providing the ecosystem of products and services that grease the wheels of trade. Barely a day has passed without the maritime sector being in the papers, on the radio or on our TV screens. And that’s not just been about whether we leave the EU with or without a deal. We’ve been able to use our heightened profile to talk about much more – from decarbonisation to regional growth, to our people, competitiveness of our business environment, exports and innovation – and to turn that profile into tangible output.

Perhaps the most significant of these outputs has been the establishment of Maritime Research and Innovation UK (MarRI-UK). Announced when government published its Clean Maritime Plan, MarRI-UK is now established as the UK’s national centre for maritime research and innovation. Based at the University of Strathclyde, it is designed to realise the collective value of the UK’s academic and research assets across the whole country. Together, individual companies and academic institutions will jointly focus on three key areas: decarbonisation, digitisation and automation. Thanks to funding from the Department for Transport, the centre has already launched its first call for decarbonisation, with another to be announced on automation shortly.

“Together, individual companies and academic institutions will jointly focus on three key areas: decarbonisation, digitisation and automation.”

Beyond innovation, Maritime UK’s priorities for the coming months include enhancing the competitiveness of the sector (to attract more ship owners to the UK and boost the export of maritime products and services) driving growth in coastal communities, minimising the sector’s impact upon the environment, investing in our people and increasing the diversity of our workforce.

Darwin said that, "In the long history of humankind those who learned to collaborate most effectively have prevailed”. Darwinian Theory is just as relevant to our industry as it is to us as individuals. And that is what Maritime UK is all about – collaboration amongst individual companies, between our maritime industries, and with Government. The principal product of this collaborative approach was published in January in the form of Maritime 2050. For the first time ever, the sector now has a long-term strategy to guide industry and Government activity to ensure the competitiveness of the sector.

Already we are seeing good progress. For instance, the new Government’s focus on rebalancing the economy and investing in coastal communities chimes with our Coastal Powerhouse campaign, and has led to the announcement of 10 new free ports.

Industry and Government are due to launch a new five-year plan to promote maritime exports and attract increased Foreign Direct Investment. This will include an enhanced ‘Maritime is GREAT’ campaign and stronger UK presence at the key international trade shows that matter.

“Barely a day has passed without maritime in the papers, on the radio or on our TV screens.”

Industry has also established the Women in Maritime programme with a Charter, Speaker Bank and Interview Pool. A new #MaritimeCareers brand is bringing together a wide variety of industry careers activity in a coordinated and uniform way, learning lessons from the Government’s successful ‘Year of Engineering’. Government has helped fund Maritime UK’s regional cluster development programme, where industry is working to establish collaborative vehicles in maritime regions to bring together industry, academia and local government within the Maritime UK umbrella to drive growth and create jobs. The new clusters are based upon the ‘Mersey Maritime model’ and are playing a key role in helping shape Local Industries Strategies for their region.

Government and industry have co-funded a study into the competitiveness of the UK’s maritime business environment, providing a set of recommendations and evidence base to boost competitiveness further. The Government has also launched its Clean Maritime Plan, setting out how the UK will transition to net zero maritime and has produced guidance on Port Air Quality Plans.

This London International Shipping Week (LISW) will be the biggest and best yet. For our own part, Maritime UK has been working incredibly closely with Government to leverage the week’s potential to promote the UK’s world-leading maritime offer to international audiences, and to promote the sector, its potential, and its careers, to audiences at home. Maritime UK is delighted to be hosting several major events throughout the week. These include a tremendous programme of events at the ‘Global Trade Hub’ in the Leadenhall Building, the official Welcome Reception at Banqueting House with The Princess Royal, the launch of our new ‘State of the Maritime Nation’ report in Parliament and a major Careers Hub aboard the NLV Pharos, part of our campaign to attract future talent to maritime. We are particularly pleased that this year’s LISW is about more than just London, and more than just shipping. The breadth and depth of our sector will be on full display as our maritime regions play their part, as do our ports, engineering, services and leisure marine industries.

The State of the Maritime Nation report will show decision-makers that maritime is one of Britain’s biggest industries, and it’s in rude health. The numbers speak for themselves, with the sector as a whole (shipping, ports, services, engineering and leisure marine) posting 9% growth over the past five years, meaning it now supports 1,065,600 jobs and contributes £46bn to the economy.

Whilst there are undeniably significant challenges for the sector to face both here at home and across the world, the good news is that we’re in the best place we’ve been for years to respond to those challenges, and indeed capitalise upon them. Maritime 2050, and the way in which industry is now collaborating, are to be warmly welcomed. Let’s make sure that we step up our collective efforts, deliver more, quicker, and turbo-charge our great maritime nation.

Maritime UK is pleased to work closely with ABP across a number of programmes, including to deliver the first Maritime UK Awards, the Maritime Masters programme and official Welcome Reception at Banqueting House during LISW.