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Ports: look to Green Investment and Freeports as part of economic recovery

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Dry Bulk,

The British Ports Association (BPA) has recently published an economic recovery plan for government that highlights how investment in ports can play a part in the UK’s healing from the deepest economic shock in living memory.

Included in the proposals are a Green Maritime Fund to drive sustainable development and help stimulate growth consistent with Net Zero aims. A key message is to energise its ports by igniting their potential to fire up the economy.

The document outlines a framework for recovery, providing government with ideas on how to unlock the untapped potential of UK ports to drive growth; supporting a recovery process that brings all of the regions of the UK along with it - to create a stronger Britain than ever before. It focuses on three key areas to kick start economic activity:

  1. Continued medium-term cash flow and business support.
  2. A massive scaling up of the UK’s infrastructure ambitions, including a Green Maritime Fund for sustainable development.
  3. A bold and broad-based inclusive Freeports and fast track planning policy.

Divided into short, medium and long-term initiatives, the plan outlines how government can utilise ports and the wider maritime industry, not only to administer first aid to the economy in its first steps towards recovery but to prevent economic aftershocks and stimulate growth for years to come. This plan is for 2020 and beyond.

Richard Ballantyne, Chief Executive at the British Ports Association, said; “The COVID-19 crisis has been unprecedented in both the speed at which it has hit and the depth. Many ports have seen significant drops in volumes in activity which were impossible to predict and the impact is likely to be felt over the medium-term as the health crisis eases but the economic impact bites.

“Ports are key national and regional hubs for economic activity and jobs. However, data collected by the BPA shows that just 36% of our ports feel confident about their business outlook over the next 12 months so we need Government to fan the flames of their potential to spark wider economic benefits. Help ports and you help the country.

“The BPA is, therefore, proposing the following three packages; Continued medium-term cash flow and business support; a massive scaling up of the UK’s infrastructure ambitions; and a bold and broad-based Freeports policy and port zoning strategy. We are promoting a Green Maritime Fund to provide a pro Net Zero development and growth agenda.

“These packages offer a path to prosperity in the long-term while promoting sustainable growth and helping ports to realise their potential in what is likely to be the most challenging economic climate for a generation. Ports have the ambition to lead the country to a new future.

“A key message is that we want energise our ports by igniting their potential to fire up the economy. Let's make it happen.”

1. Continued medium-term cash flow and business support

According to data collected by the BPA, 86% of ports have seen either substantial or severe impacts on shipping and customer activities. However, ports are not only seeing a vast impact on their commercial activity but facing requests for assistance to help keep port users afloat too. Furthermore, 32% of ports are now concerned about borrowings and banking covenants. The government must, therefore, support investment and cash flow in the short-term.

Measures outlined within the plan including a government factoring service. This would allow ports and other businesses to raise funds in the short term. The BPA also highlights how a deferral of business rates backed by central Government would also free up capital to help cash flow.

Looking ahead, the BPA is asking government to support skills development to ensure retaining and developing people is not a cost burden.

2. A massive scaling up of the UK’s infrastructure ambitions

Without a doubt, investment in infrastructure will play a fundamental role in securing the UK’s future prosperity. Infrastructure investments are entirely cost-effective; when money is channelled into infrastructure, returns to the economy are multiplied. Measures outlined within the plan include a UK Infrastructure Bank and a Green Maritime Fund.

The BPA welcomes government’s sustainability objectives but stresses that significant investment will be required to achieve these targets. The BPA is, therefore, proposing government adopts a Green Maritime Fund, to unlock capital, aid the growth of the sector while also taking steps towards the Government’s most critical long-term policy aims. The BPA will also shortly be publishing a paper that explores how to overcome the barriers to ship-to-shore power.

3. A bold and broad-based inclusive Freeports policy

The UK government is in the process of developing a UK-wide strategy on Freeports, and the BPA will be outlining its views further within its response to the consultation. However, it has identified several imperative conditions of the UK Freeport model to unlock the untapped potential of the UK’s coastal communities – leaving no region behind through this process - by drawing investment into manufacturing and logistics

BPA urges the government not to limit its ambition to the previously suggested 10 site proposals as there is a real danger of the leaving some regions behind by limiting the scope. It also asks that government reclassifies ‘port zones’ with improved planning, fiscal and regulatory status.

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