The 2013 conference season has been a strange time for the maritime sector. The inaugural London International Shipping Week started things off with a bang and then the sector moved on to the political party conferences circuit.
Ports were well represented with a healthy splattering of corporate affairs directors, but positive announcements or, at the very least, mentions by ministers and their shadow colleagues were limited to a few fleeting references. In his closing speech, the Prime Minister championed the potential for a marine renewable energy base on the Humber, while the Secretary of State’s speech touched upon the investment planned and being made by ports across the land.
Various events skated around maritime issues – the Rail Freight Group breakfast meetings examined issues around landside connectivity and intermodal traffic, while live animal exports to the continent was a side issue at the RSPCA’s fringe events – but interventions, positive or negative, were muted.
For a sector with such impressive figures on employment, gross domestic product and tax revenue, it is concerning that the rowing and sailing lobby had a more visible presence in both the exhibition area and fringe meetings at the most important set of events in the political calendar.
With a packed list of concerns stretching from the proposal by the EU to “re-nationalise” the UK’s ports through the Port Services Regulation, marine planning and the possible designation of swathes of the seas as marine conservation zones, to the impact of the sulphur emission control areas on UK ferry and cruise traffic – the sector has to be more vocal in the political arena. Next year’s conference season is the most important in the electoral cycle as the parties look to gather ideas and distill their thoughts further ahead of the publication of the manifestoes.
Given the port sector’s symbiotic relationship with the energy sector, Ed Miliband’s commitment to freeze energy domestic prices for 20 months after the general election combined with another – yes, another – energy bill to reform energy markets, re-engineer and give the regulator some teeth, has created a hiatus in the market. Ed’s energy policy declaration was doubtless a popular move with the public, but in an area where the UK government has consistently failed to grasp the nettle and plough forward with trying to deliver an energy infrastructure investment programme of any meaning, his intervention is unhelpful for many port customers and ports alike.
The officers (MPs and peers) of the All-Party Parliamentary Maritime and Ports Group plan to pick up the baton once again in Parliament in the run up to the general election. The officers of the Group are about to set the agenda for the coming year, with sessions proposed on a range of subjects, including West African maritime security, tidal energy and updates from various ministers. If you would like to suggest a possible session or find out more about the Group, please contact John Stevenson who supplies the secretariat services on firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7067 1595.