David Dingle CBE, Chairman of Maritime UK, examines the rare opportunity provided by the recently published Maritime Growth Study
As an island nation, the United Kingdom is built on the strength and global influence of our trading links around the world, and it is plain to see how our maritime heritage has shaped the very substance of the country. It would therefore be easy to believe that this tradition might continue ad infinitum, a guarantee of continuing global influence as the world changes around us.
However, as the nature of our nation’s connection with the sea and those who work upon it changes, and faced with increasing competition from maritime centres around the world, it is clear that belief alone will not secure the future of our maritime nation.
In September 2015 the Department for Transport published the report of the Maritime Growth Study, subtitled Keeping the UK competitive in a global market. This study, led by Lord Mountevans, set a clear challenge to industry and government, to look beyond preconceptions, to rigorously examine the place of the UK within the global maritime environment, and to build an ambitious strategy to strengthen and expand the maritime sector. The study marked a turning point for our industry, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to consider and debate our future.
Maritime UK, having taken on the mantle of the promotional body envisaged by the Maritime Growth Study, has therefore expanded its membership and remit, bringing representatives of the maritime and marine industries together for the first time under one umbrella. Over the course of the last year we have brought together industry experts to form working groups on each of the key themes identified by the study, including examining the key steps required to deliver an effective skills strategy, identifying new export and investment opportunities, and building a year-round programme of activity to raise the profile of the sector at home and abroad.
A world-class maritime centre
The UK has long been the natural home of shipping businesses, with an attractive business environment and a Ship Register renowned internationally for high standards and quality. The global shipowning community looks to the UK as a centre of excellence and a leader on the world stage.
Already, great strides have been made, and we have seen growth in the tonnage on the Register in the last year, highlighting the strength of goodwill in the global industry towards the Ensign – and the huge opportunity for further growth if the current reform process can be delivered successfully.
The reputation of the UK as a destination for shipowners to base their businesses relies also on the strength of the wider cluster – offering a one-stop shop for maritime business services. As an unparalleled centre of excellence in ship broking, legal, arbitration, insurance, P&I and finance, the UK is the first choice for those in the international maritime community. However, we must up our game if we are to continue competing effectively with other centres across the world. True and sustainable growth will only be delivered when the global industry recognises that the UK is proactive in creating a competitive, commercially focused and ambitious sector.
In order to drive growth, we must also ensure that we have the right people with the right skills across all sectors of our industry. The experience, knowledge and expertise within our workforce is second to none. UK training and education providers are world-renowned, and UK seafaring certifications are considered as a gold standard throughout the world. But that standard does come at a price, and if we are to secure the future of the next seafaring generation we must find means to make UK seafarer training competitive.
Government and industry are working on new means of funding seafarer training schemes – through a proposed development of the Support for Maritime Training (SMarT) scheme into ‘SMart Plus’, to ensure that cadets are supported through their initial training and beyond. We are also encouraging the widespread adoption of apprenticeship schemes, to encourage more young people into the industry and provide sustainable and fulfilling careers for them.
The importance of transferable skills and the essential role seafarers play when they turn to shore-based careers must also be addressed, and investment in ongoing training and development of the skills within the UK workforce will ensure that the sector’s productivity and expertise is retained.
We must ensure that our workforce is equipped to deal with the challenges and technologies of the future. The UK maritime sector is an innovative one. Our commitment to and investment in research and development makes the UK world-class in the development of cutting-edge design and technologies which will reduce emissions and make vessels more efficient in the future.
The UK companies and research institutes developing these technologies all have a fantastic story to tell – from small family-run marine manufacturing businesses to major projects, these innovators are driving growth, supporting local economies and creating highly skilled and specialist jobs.
World-class maritime future
All of these strengths will be ever more important as we look to a world outside the European Union. As a country we must rise to the challenges this transition will pose, and as an industry we must seek out the opportunities and take an unashamedly ambitious approach to building new trading relationships around the globe. The maritime sector, as the engine and enabler of global trade, must recognise the significant responsibility it has in ensuring that Britain is open for business.
We must ensure that we continue to attract and retain the brightest and the best from the global workforce. The UK must invest in the infrastructure projects that will keep us competitive, help business create more jobs, and deliver growth.
Above all, it is crucial that the UK offers certainty, stability and predictability, allowing the maritime industries to focus on delivering the growth needed to support jobs in this country, drive innovation, and enable trade with the rest of the world.
None of these things will be easily won, and it will take a long time before the picture becomes truly clear. But our industry must be at the centre of this picture. In a changing world we cannot afford to rest on our laurels if we are to maintain our position as a world-leading maritime nation – we must be ambitious and we must have vision. It is our responsibility:
- to come together as an industry to share information and best practice, to identify where we can make efficiencies through collaboration and cooperation.
- to engage and seek new means of raising the profile of the sector in the minds of both government and public.
- to increase the number of young people entering and building their careers within our sector, at sea and on shore.
- to work with government to grow the UK’s reputation and influence on the world stage, with a British Ship Register of which we can be proud, and a flourishing and dynamic services industry to support it.
The Maritime Growth Study has set the direction, and has set out some of the means by which to deliver growth for the sector. We may encounter new and unexpected challenges along the way, but it is our responsibility to face up to those challenges if we are to succeed in growing our industry, creating new jobs, and showcasing all that makes our maritime nation world-class.
For more information about Maritime UK, visit www.maritimeuk.org