Maritime Minister on the resilience and dedication of the sector

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First published in ABP's Report magazine – Winter 2020
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The nation continues the fight against the pandemic, with the maritime sector and Associated British Ports (ABP) specifically on the front line, after the announcement of further steps necessary to control the coronavirus. I realise that these measures introduce new challenges for business and individuals alike, but the nation recognises and is indebted to the whole of the maritime sector for its sterling work in keeping the nation fed and supplied with medical and essential goods throughout these unprecedented times.

I want to offer my sincere thanks to everyone in the ports sector for their tireless dedication and support. Without this our supply lines would not have operated. The resilience and dedication shown by everyone across our sector has been exemplary. I cannot emphasise enough how grateful we all are for the support you have given the nation.

Within a few days of taking up my post, I was lucky enough to be able to visit the Port of Southampton, a truly wonderful port. I was impressed by the scale and diverse nature of trade handled efficiently and professionally, from fuel and cars to freight. I was also pleased to see the spectacular upgrade and investment to the Ocean Cruise Terminal. I hope to be able to visit many more operations when we are in a better place than we are now.

We continue to work across my department and wider government to support and grow maritime trade as we move on from the pandemic and we are working together on a restart plan for the cruise sector. The cruise sector supports thousands of jobs and contributes significantly to the economy, whilst of course being enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people. It supports coastal communities and jobs in the areas wherever these majestic vessels go, both around the UK and internationally. As soon as the time is right, we will be ready to relaunch this sector.

Our ports, no matter which corner of the country they are in, play a crucial part in supporting many local and coastal economies. It is vitally important that we support our ports infrastructure to ensure our prosperity and support jobs, local services and skills.

That is why we are focused on delivering a robust recovery for the maritime sector. This starts with tackling immediate issues in the coming weeks and months to ensure we maintain the strengths of the sector. We will also consider where actions can be taken to aid the long-term recovery of the sector and support the achievement of the vision we collectively set out in Maritime 2050.

We have already worked hard in preparing to leave the EU by investing in infrastructure around the country. We are ready for the new opportunities and environment we will be in on 1 January. In July, we announced a package of £705 million, with £470 million of that earmarked for ports infrastructure investment. Port Infrastructure Fund grants are being delivered directly to ports to make the necessary changes and departments right across government are working together to make this happen. There has never been more cross government interest in our ports infrastructure than now, so I am delighted that the cooperation between industry and government is so strong.

We want this to be a green recovery. We have a great opportunity as we emerge from the pandemic to implement new cleaner initiatives. This is reflected by the recent announcement by the Prime Minister that £160 million will be made available to upgrade ports and infrastructure across communities, like Teesside and Humber in Northern England, Scotland and Wales, to hugely increase our offshore wind capacity. This is already the largest in the world and currently meets 10 per cent of our electricity demand. ABP has already led the way with the design and build of the £310m offshore wind turbine production and installation facility at Green Port Hull, completed in 2017.

We have already launched our Clean Maritime Plan and we continue to strive towards delivering our net zero commitments. I am grateful for the work our stakeholders are putting into this in order to achieve our shared goals of delivering a cleaner, greener maritime sector.

Cleaner seas and reduced emissions all help to deliver a world and a future we can all be happy to hand on to future generations.

I am pleased to see that ABP has itself just ordered a feet of new, more fuel efficient pilot boats from a UK manufacturer as part of a wide ranging plan to reduce carbon emissions.

We have to take action now, for the path to a net zero sector is not a quick one. But steps are being made right here, right now. Hybrid vessels, electric vehicles in ports and many other energy efficient ways of working are all beginning to deliver the changes we need to see.

In November, as part of the Maritime UK awards, we are also awarding the first of our own Clean Maritime Awards. For me, it is incredibly gratifying to see the range and scale of some of the nominees in these awards. It is fantastic to have industry pick up the challenges we laid down and showcase these innovations and developments. I hope to see many more nominees and real solutions in the coming years at these awards.

It has been a difficult and challenging year. We could not have foreseen the scale and impact that the pandemic would have on our day to day lives and our ways of working. But in these unprecedented times, it is important that we pull together as a nation, to ensure that we keep on working and we keep on delivering.

I must pass on again my sincere gratitude for everyone working on the front line during these difficult times. It is your strength, your resilience and your work that keeps the nation going. The UK has always been a proud maritime nation and this year has shown why that pride is justified, as never before. Thank you, all.