Transport minister Lord Ahmad sets out maritime vision to meet challenges ahead.


I am delighted to be here this morning to address this inaugural UK Chamber of Shipping Summit.

A thought provoking and engaging day lies ahead with so many leading figures from industry and government here in this room.

The programme for the day is wide-ranging, tackling some of the most significant challenges and opportunities facing shipping both now and in the future.

I will use the privilege of providing the keynote address to set out my own thoughts and leave you with some food for thought – and maybe a little bit of homework for good measure!

The United Kingdom has undergone a period of significant change since the vote to leave the European Union (EU) on 23 June.

As our new Prime Minister has said, as we leave the EU we will forge a bold new positive role for ourselves in the world.

We must look to economic and industrial strategy, global trade and social reform to ensure Britain’s place in the world and a strong future for all Britons.

Already the PM has shown the intent of our new government, and I believe that an innovative, successful and world-leading transport sector is absolutely fundamental to our future prosperity and continued success on the world stage.

That is why I was very pleased to be part of the new Ministerial team in the Department for Transport.

I know from my own experience that the maritime sector is absolutely vital to our success.

Our latest estimate is that the sector contributes over £13 billion to the UKeconomy.

This is comparable to other high value industries like the aerospace and road freight.

And it is a significant employer supporting at least 110,000 jobs and over 6,800 businesses – and that is possibly a conservative estimate.

The UK is undoubtedly still a world-leading maritime centre, and it is our intent for it to remain so.

As recent reports attest, we remain highly competitive in the fields of maritime business services, maritime training and in areas like marine manufacturing and research.

At the heart of our success is a skilled and expert workforce making significant contributions to driving local growth as well as national and international success.

And we have hugely successful industries like UK based cruise operators with a record 1.8 million Britons embarking on cruises in 2015, adding over £2.3 billion to the UK economy.

I know that everyone in this room is committed to growing the number of UKshipping companies, and the UK fleet remains hugely significant when UKowned vessels are combined with those that are parent owned or managed.

We are all aware of the very challenging trading conditions that the industry is currently experiencing.

Despite this, I understand that the Chamber has increased its membership.

This is testament to your work and the wide-ranging support you provide our shipping sector.

The UK remains a leading maritime nation that is highly regarded the world over, and recognised for its expertise, experience and quality.

However, as we look to forge a positive role for ourselves in the world, we must all be confident, more than ever before, that we can compete for business on the world stage, and that we believe in our maritime offer.

A central theme of today’s summit is to create a plan for the future of shipping in the UK, so let me turn to the forward agenda.

Today’s summit is just over a year since the publication of the Maritime growth study.

There will be a number of government and industry events through autumn that will consider the progress we have made and to renew and identify future objectives.

I have seen encouraging signs of progress.

An ever closer collaboration between government and industry – with Maritime UK providing an increasingly authoritative voice for the maritime sector as a whole.

As the former skills minister, I heard first-hand the issues that matter to the industry at the maritime skills breakfast.

A great deal of work is underway identifying the future skills needs of the maritime sector and how best to support those needs.

Our people matter hugely to the growth of the sector.

I note that one of your sessions later today will debate the UK seafarer training offer examining what is needed to create the next seafaring generation.

Let me say a little about what the department is doing.

We have two reviews underway. One is to assess the how many seafarers will be needed in the UK in future. The other is the SMarT Review where we are looking to see if it is still fit for purpose.

Some of you will have been involved in these pieces of work already and we are grateful for that input.

We also appreciate the concern that some of you have voiced that care needs to be taken over the review and any subsequent decision.

I would again emphasise the importance of engaging with us.

Give us your evidence on the advantages of SMarT and ideas for alternative proposals such as SMarT plus. Now is the time to feed those ideas in and provide the detail behind them as the review is taken forward.

Perhaps the most important strand of work for many of you in this room is our ambitions to reform the UK Ship Register and to grow the UK flag.

I have heard on many occasions the importance of a growing flag and a competitive ship register to the UK.

I know that there is much we get right but there is also much more to do.

Our competitors want our business and they have shown themselves to be determined, flexible and agile in their pursuit.

We cannot expect to grow the UK flag on reputation or history and if we stand still we will find ourselves moving backwards.

That is why the government is absolutely determined to press on with the transformation of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Work is well underway to explore the commercial opportunities that exist and to bring a responsiveness to our customers that they expect and deserve.

You will hear later this afternoon from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency about the progress they are making, their determination to deliver reform, and how they are driving progress with significant programmes of work underway.

Reforming the UK Ship Register, creating the right conditions to support existing companies and growing the flag further must be central to our plans.

As we leave the EU and form a new relationship and gain success with it, we must present ourselves as a world-class maritime flag in a strategically advantageous location.

So as we seek to transform the UK Ship Register, I would ask that you work with us to help us get the offer right, hold us to account if you think we are not making the right changes, and be the advocates as progress is made.

We must be clear about the challenges that exiting the EU presents too.

I know that uncertainty is unhelpful and the sooner we can provide clarity the better.

I also know that this is a negotiation we want to get absolutely right for the benefit of our country and for your businesses.

The maritime industry has been quick to engage with the Department for Transport about the challenges that exiting the EU could raise.

I know that you are up for addressing them.

I would encourage you to keep articulating those concerns.

Make sure that your priorities for negotiations are heard and understood.

Complex decisions lie ahead as we shape our future trading relationships outside the EU.

They will be vitally important to the shipping and maritime sector as a whole.

But I am optimistic we can address these challenges together and promote all that the UK has to offer.

The UK now has a unique opportunity to shape a bright future as a global trading nation with an open economy.

An important part of that future will be in developing the strongest possible trade and investment relationship with the EU and across the world.

Central to the government’s plans is our vision for an industrial strategywhich is about boosting productivity, creating good jobs and delivering economic growth.

The shipping sector has an important story to tell as an enabler of the industrial strategy as well as a significant industry in its own right.

In government, it will be driven by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

But they will need to work closely across government and with a range of organisations.

Transport has a vital role at the heart of the industrial strategy both as an enabler, providing the supply chain and infrastructure needed to deliver the strategy, and as an economically significant sector in its own right.

The maritime sector as a whole is absolutely central to the government’s vision.

Many of our ambitions for the strategy match the maritime growth agenda.

They include increasing exports, delivering maritime clusters, identifying and fostering innovation in emerging technologies like autonomous ships, developing a skilled workforce to compete with our international rivals, and championing the role of consumers and passengers.

With these objectives in mind, I’d like to conclude today with an early advert for London International Shipping Week 2017.

Many of you will recall the incredible success of Shipping Weeks in 2013 and 2015.

And I know a number of you were instrumental in making them such a success.

I myself had the pleasure of attending the Mersey Maritime reception, and as a keen proponent of early years learning, I also visited a school in Scarborough to help inspire the future generation of maritime professionals.

I’m delighted that we are already working closely in partnership to deliver a high profile week of events next year.

London International Shipping week 2017 will bring leaders from across international maritime industries together for a dynamic and exciting week.

I would encourage you all to seize the opportunity and make it the best week yet.

Finally, the importance of the continued strong collaboration between government and industry is key.

The Chamber has a hugely vital role in representing the shipping sector with innovative and timely events like today’s summit.

And as a whole the sector speaks with an ever more powerful voice through Maritime UK.

I am delighted that the Chamber, like many maritime bodies, has seen the value in joining forces on the issues that matter across the sector.

That collaboration is as vital now as we plan and deliver a successful future outside of the EU, as we place our industrial strategy at the heart of government policy, and as we continue to drive forward the maritime growth agenda.

Thank you.

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