The report for the Maritime Growth Study: keeping the UK competitive in a global market is the culmination of many months of work involving widespread engagement and detailed research. The result is a ‘call to arms’ to industry and government to actively support and raise the profile of a vital sector that contributes significantly to the economy and which the nation relies on to meet its daily needs. As a lifelong practitioner of shipbroking, the significance of the maritime sector to our island trading nation has long been known to me, as has the reliance of the rest of the world on our diverse maritime cluster. However, the sector sometimes appears to be invisible to policymakers and the general public, with UK maritime services quietly keeping the world’s seaborne trade moving and keeping our supermarket shelves stacked, all with little fanfare or media attention. The Study is a chance to reverse this state of affairs and highlight a vibrant, global sector comprising various successful industries that can deliver against the government’s stated priorities of rebalancing the economy, enhancing productivity, increasing exports and ‘a Britain standing tall in the world’. The departure of large scale commercial shipbuilding from our shores has forced the sector to evolve, bringing to the forefront our expertise in maritime-related business services, as well as marine manufacturing, engineering and technology.
We may no longer build the largest commercial vessels, but we continue to provide services to the world that support their charter, insurance, sale and purchase. We also design and supply the essential components that are critical to their operation. Our largely private sector-led ports market also remains a global success and Britain’s offer in maritime education, training and research is unrivalled. This ‘one-stop-shop’ of maritime services is exported worldwide and encourages businesses, including shipowners, to locate and invest here. However, we must evolve again if we are to remain the world’s leading maritime centre; we cannot be complacent about our position in the global market or the decline of UK shipping interests and shipowners, both domestic and foreign. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then there are several maritime nations seeking to emulate our success both in Europe and the Far East. I therefore urge industry and government to build on their existing partnership to take forward the recommendations in this report. The Study’s publication at London International Shipping Week 2015 is no coincidence; it sends a clear message to competitors and potential customers that the UK takes this sector seriously.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to enhance the contribution of the UK maritime cluster and exploit the expected growth in world trade to help create jobs, increase the export of our maritime services and encourage maritime-related investment across the country. This is a sector rich in SMEs and innovation and one that, with the right conditions, can contribute to enterprise, productivity and both national and regional growth in the UK. What I have recommended, however, will not be without challenge. In particular, industry will need to come together to focus on those issues that are most important to our sector as a whole in order to create a body that genuinely represents and promotes UK maritime. If this cannot be achieved, we will have failed to capitalise on the biggest opportunity in nearly two decades to have maritime take its rightful place in the government’s economic plans. I am extremely grateful to the members of the Maritime Growth Study Advisory Group, particularly its Chair, Michael Parker, for their support. Michael and the other members of the Group have dedicated their valuable time to this project despite busy schedules on a wholly voluntary basis.
The Study has benefitted from their constructive input and expert business knowledge. I am also most grateful to the Department for Transport and its Ministers for commissioning this Study and providing an excellent, well-resourced and hard-working secretariat to deliver the project. Finally, I would like to thank the many individuals and organisations who have submitted evidence, participated in workshops or taken the time to meet me and my secretariat. These vital contributions have helped to inform and shape the conclusions and recommendations of the Study. The Study has been both thorough and far-reaching. At its launch event, I was urged to be both aspirational and radical. I have borne that advice in mind, but also aimed to produce something that is practical and achievable. It is my genuine hope that I have formulated a package of action that both government and industry can get behind to grow our sector and establish the UK as the world’s leading maritime centre.