Mersey Maritime chief executive Chris Shirling-Rooke revealed its latest survey of its members which showed they are weathering the COVID-19 storm. Tony McDonough reports
Mersey Maritime chief executive Chris Shirling-Rooke is hailing the “resilience” of Liverpool city region’s £4bn maritime sector and called on Government to continue increased partnership and collaboration with industry.
Mr Shirling-Rooke was speaking ahead of a virtual global trade summit on Tuesday morning that Mersey Maritime is co-hosting along with Western Union and Maritime UK. Government trade minister Graham Stuart will speak during the online event.
And today Mersey Maritime releases the results of a second lockdown survey of its hundred of members which show that, despite the severe impact of the COVID-19 epidemic, many were weathering the storm.
It reveals that 64% of Liverpool city maritime businesses that responded to the survey had furloughed staff under the Government furloughing scheme. But crucially, none had ceased trading during the pandemic.
It also showed there had been a sizeable take-up of Government support packages with 75% saying they would, or might, apply to the Bounce Back Loan Scheme. However, 64% say they may need ongoing support for up to 12 months.
A significant number, 88%, said their biggest operational challenge had been managing the impact of social distancing on their day-to-day operations. And 70% of respondents say they are formulating their own recovery strategy.
In terms of coming out of lockdown, 64% said the Government strategy would be a key factor in their recovery plan while 47% were looking towards a sector-specific plan. And, 47% would maintain investment in major projects while 29% said they would welcome Government support for skills training and development.
The results of this survey, and the earlier one, have been fed into Maritime UK’s Maritime Business Continuity Taskforce which includes Government departmental representatives. It is an initiative in which Mersey Maritime is playing a leading role.
Mr Shirling-Rooke said: “The last three months have seen unprecedented turmoil and challenge in the economy and massive interventions to ensure jobs are protected, businesses are supported to guarantee survival and livelihoods are secured.
“The maritime sector hasn’t been immune to any of this and our importance in keeping the UK fed, fuelled and supplied has often been at the forefront of the national response to the crisis. This comes as no surprise to Mersey Maritime.
“We know our industry is dynamic, resilient and crucial to the local economy, being worth more than £4bn and supporting over 52,000 jobs, but we also know that it has needed support in a time of deep crisis in both our country and across the world.
“Nobody could afford to see an industry like that fail and we have welcomed the support given by Government – direct and meaningful cash support – to help our sector survive.”
He added that now the UK economy was in a restart stage it was vital to move swiftly into “recovery and renewal”. He said: “By instinct I’m an optimist but this isn’t borne out of my own personality, it comes from my knowledge and understanding of what our industry is capable of and the things that our members have told me matters to them.
“Our latest deep dive into the sector and its response have underlined for me some key points. Government support has been welcomed, even when it hasn’t been perfect. Through dialogue and lobbying at the highest level we’ve been able to tweak the support where necessary, and intervene when essential.
“While it is unreasonable to expect the same level of support to continue indefinitely, maybe there’s an opportunity to rethink how we do things in the future. In a joined up and collaborative way, is there a case for greater government intervention in some of our industry?
“Collaboration has always been at the heart of what Mersey Maritime does and our organisation would like to see that deepen with Government. It’s one of the key messages we’ve had from our sector survey and a theme we will continue to pursue.
“Maritime businesses need a clear pathway to rebuild or an ‘exit strategy’ that is clearly defined. It needs to focus on practical measures that will allow the sector here in our region to rebuild and drive itself forward as we respond to the ‘new normal.’
“Confidence remains high amongst our member businesses that we can do this but, as always, Mersey Maritime stands ready to champion our industry when it needs it most. That’s why we exist.”