Posted by

Tom Nolan, Policy Adviser

13 Sep 2012

Changes at the Department for Transport received a considerable amount of media attention during the recent cabinet reshuffle. The coverage highlighted just how important transport policy is if the UK is to increase exports and return to economic growth. Media attention focused on what the changes will mean for future aviation policy, in particular the building of a third runway at Heathrow. Alongside aviation the other areas of transport policy that grab the headlines relate to the controversial High Speed 2 as well as the upgrading of our road and rail networks.

However, there is one transport sector that has often gone unnoticed in discussions around transport policy, exports, and growth – the seaport sector. As an island nation, the UK depends on its ports more than most countries. According to the British Ports Association, 95% of the volume of UK’s international trade – imports and exports – is carried through UK ports, and this represents 75% of trade by value. UK ports are the largest in Europe, handling over 500 million tonnes of freight in 2010. And of course it is not just goods that pass through them each year; they also handle 25 million international passenger journeys annually. At a local level ports are often the major employers within their areas. It is estimated that some 112,000 people are directly employed across the UK by the ports industry.

Moreover, all of the 120 commercial ports operating in the UK are self-financing enterprises. They are free from government support or subsidy. But this does not mean that the government can overlook the industry or that they do not have a role to play in ensuring the port industry remains internationally competitive.

The designation of the National Port Policy Statement was a positive development and should help make the planning and consents regime fit for purpose. But for UK ports to remain successful there are still other issues – such as supporting infrastructure and streamlined border controls – that still need addressing.  

Whether it is roads, railways, airports or seaports, all are equally important to the UK  achieving an export led recovery. The focus they receive from government shouldn’t depend on the amount of attention they receive from the media. Ensuring that the UK has high quality transport infrastructure in all sectors must be a national priority in order to support businesses’ aspirations in international trade.

As part of our ‘Exporting is Good for Britain’ campaign, the BCC will be hosting its International Trade Conference on October 24th in central London. The conference offers support to businesses looking to take their products and services to a global market. The event will celebrate our businesses’ international success, and it will support, advise and inspire firms who continue to pursue growth through trade. Tickets are now on sale through the event’s website.