The UK is a maritime nation. Our ports handle 95% of the nation’s
trade in goods. But for every five containers that arrive in the UK loaded with imported goods, two to three leave these shores empty.
Addressing that deficit needs to be a top priority post-Brexit and our ports are part of the answer. Our ports can be the vanguard of an ambitious and creative industrial strategy, playing a central role in helping the nation to increase its manufacturing and exports.
The Port of Southampton is the UK’s number one export port, handling exports worth some £40 billion. Of that total, some £36 billion are exports destined for countries outside the EU. Those exports are driven by leading manufacturers such as Jaguar Land Rover and JCB; the Port
of Southampton is their gateway to global markets. That’s why to enable the UK to boost its manufacturing and exports, it's important to make sure that ports like Southampton can grow and that they are well-connected by road and rail.
For ports to serve exporters effectively, they also need to be able to continue to invest in new port infrastructure and facilities. This requires a regulatory environment which is appropriate for the UK.
Over the past five years, the UK ports industry has attracted over £2 billion of private investment, helping to create 50,000 new private sector jobs. Unfortunately, this success has been put at risk by the proposed EU Port Services Regulation, a regulation designed for the
majority of ports elsewhere in Europe which, unlike in the UK, are largely state-owned and state-funded.
Over the past five years, the UK ports industry has attracted over £2 billion of private investment, helping to create 50,000 new private sector jobs
The Regulation must be one of the first EU laws to be repealed upon completion of the Article 50 negotiation process.
The contribution that ports can make to increasing manufacturing and exports, however, goes beyond their role as facilitators of trade; ports offer a major strategic opportunity to develop new manufacturing industries. A number of ports across Britain, from Hull to Port Talbot, have large areas of land close to deep water; they are the ideal locations for new manufacturing businesses, offering efficient maritime access for the import of raw materials or components, and export of finished products. The construction of a new £310 million offshore wind manufacturing plant by ABP and Siemens in Hull is one example of these benefits in action, but those benefits can apply to all types of manufacturing, not just those related to offshore activity.
Government can help realise the opportunity to develop ports as centres of new manufacturing by marketing those ports which offer the greatest potential to investors and companies overseas.
Government can also introduce new and enhanced mechanisms to further increase the attractiveness of port locations for new manufacturing and development.
The ‘Super Enterprise Zone’ is a concept that builds on current Enterprise Zones by incorporating additional advantages for businesses around the payment of duty on imports and exports; it’s an idea particularly suited to unlocking the full potential of ports as drivers of
The Super Enterprise Zone is just one example of the ambitious and innovative thinking that the UK will need in order to forge a prosperous future. Indeed, such thinking should be the guiding principle of an industrial strategy that aims to increase manufacturing and exports.
It is also imperative that the development of this strategy is based
on a clear and robust mandate to align policy across government with
achieving the strategy’s overarching objectives. Ports offer a perfect
demonstration of why there is a need for this approach since, as we have seen, maximising their ability to drive growth in manufacturing and exports depends on actions that cut across the policy competencies of a number of government departments.
Regardless of Brexit, it is right that government is looking to build an industrial strategy. Ports are ready to be at the forefront of this, helping deliver a reinvigorated manufacturing base, more exports and a stronger economy. Ports can be the foundation of our
prosperity in a post-Brexit world.