Hard to port

July 18, 2018

There are more than 140 active cargo handling ports spread around the UK, handling 95 per cent of goods which cross our borders, including several based in the North East. Here, Chris Dobson looks at the issues facing the nation’s ports

I am privy to a copy of a letter sent to our prime minster by Richard Ballantyne, chief executive, British Ports Association (BPA).

Naturally polite in tone and expressing thanks for the government’s support for the UK ports’ sector, it gently reminds the PM that the BPA represents a wide range of UK ports and terminals which, in one form or another, facilitate around 80 per cent of the UK’s international trade.

Included in this are North East ports that handle the majority of the UK’s trade with Europe, such as Port of Tyne and Teesport.

Many are roll-on roll-off ports and terminals which facilitate in excess of 10,000 lorry journeys between the UK and the EU each day, largely uninterrupted. This, of course, is frictionless trade.

Richard Ballantyne says: “There are currently around 30 Government agencies or organisations which can carry out procedures at ports and we expect there to be additional physical and digital infrastructure requirements at the border to accommodate new arrangements following Brexit.

“It is critical that these agencies are prepared for a new Brexit regime and that the infrastructure required is in place in time. Last Autumn’s Budget Statement included significant funding for Brexit preparations and we are seeking your assurances that this will cover the resourcing of these physical facilities and not just additional staff, so as not to introduce further potential negative impacts on ports.

“To truly achieve the Government’s ambition of frictionless trade, it will be important that the passenger and freight checks that do take place at the border are kept to a minimum, with as much activity as possible undertaken away from ports. We would also expect that facilities needed by the border agencies are shared to prevent additional disruption or duplications of infrastructure being built.”

Recently the BPA welcomed the publication of the UK Government’s Port Connectivity Study: Transport infrastructure for our global future, but suggested that investment guarantees, support and guidance for local planners and a new overarching freight strategy would be needed for Government to deliver on many of the report’s recommendations.

The study, along with a set of regional case studies on port connectivity, included a number of recommendations about raising the profile of ports with Government and beyond.

Ports are vital components of the UK economy, acting as gateways for the UK’s international trade, as well as providing regional hubs for economic activity and employment.

The study also includes a call to arms for the UK ports industry to examine ways to promote itself to other parts of UK Government and highlight the value of the sector. In the last 12 months, the BPA has been more active in Westminster and in the regions, raising the profile of the industry in general.

Richard adds: “We look forward to working with the relevant parts of government, along with industry partners, to explore ways to promote what ports do and the reasons why port connectivity should be prioritised.

“Local authority budgets have come under much pressure and they will need both strategic direction and investment if challenges such as new links, bottlenecks and ‘last mile connections’ to ports are to be overcome.”