National and local leaders of UK’s £116bn maritime industry meet senior Labour figures at Liverpool party conference and say Government support is critical to meet £2bn-a-year cost of decarbonisation. Tony McDonough reports
Stronger partnerships with Government are essential if the UK maritime sector is able to meet the £2bn-a year-cost of net zero to the industry between now and 2050.
That was the message from UK and local maritime leaders at an event on the eve of the Labour conference in Liverpool.
Chris Shirling-Rooke, chief executive of Maritime UK, and Ruth Wood, interim chief executive of Mersey Maritime, were among senior figures behind the Maritime UK on the Mersey event at the Museum of Liverpool which saw shadow ministers in attendance.
Maritime is a £116bn sector supporting more than 1m jobs in the UK. In Liverpool city region alone, maritime is worth £5.6bn annually, more than tourism, and supports some 48,000 jobs. More than 90% of our imported food and goods arrive by sea.
Yet, by the admission of the sector’s leaders, it too often works away in the background and often doesn’t have the profile of other sectors such as aviation or automotive, which are smaller in size.
In 2019 the current Conservative Government published the Maritime 2050 report, a document that sought to plot a strategy for the industry for the next 30 years.
It has a heavy focus on decarbonisation and diversity in a sector sometimes viewed as staid and traditional.
Maritime leaders are now working hard to counter that perception and highlight how parts of its industry have embraced new technology, net zero and the diversification of its workforce.
Since the publication of Maritime 2050, the Government, although heavily criticised in many areas, has made a serious attempt to support the maritime sector’s transition to a lower carbon future.
One example is UK SHORE, a programme that aims to transform the UK into a global leader in the design and manufacturing of clean maritime technologies.
This is already having tangible results. Here in Liverpool in the last few weeks, Bibby Marine has secured £20m from the Government to support its efforts to build a net zero offshore support vessel for wind farms.
However, the political sands are shifting. In some polls Labour is now ahead of the Conservatives by 20 points or more. And while nothing is ever certain, there is a strong expectation Labour will be in Government before the end of 2024.
Ahead of this week’s Labour conference at ACC Liverpool, LBN reported global corporates including Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Vodafone and Google will be among a record 200 businesses at the event. They know which way the wind is blowing.
Maritime UK on the Mersey saw senior figures from shipbuilder Cammell Laird and seafarers union Nautilus International speak with shadow ministers Mike Kane and Bill Esterson.
Mr Kane, a Greater Manchester Labour MP, has been shadow minister for aviation and maritime since 2020. Mr Esterson, MP for Sefton Central which includes the Port of Liverpool, is shadow roads minister.
“I have always had a good relationship with the Labour Party. When Mike Kane was first given the role of shadow minister for maritime I was very quick to reach out to offer support and guidance.
“For a number of years we have engaged with all political parties as a way of ensuring our political leaders have a real understanding of the importance of maritime to the UK.
“It is an industry which is bigger than aviation and rail combined. It is very easy for us to forget that with our Amazon and Ocado orders. But without maritime as an island nation we would cease to exist.”
Mr Kane addressed the event and emphasised Labour’s commitment to decarbonise the UK’s economy in the first five years after getting into Government.
He said: “The importance of maritime cannot be underestimated. More than 90% of our goods enter our country by sea. That was put into sharp focus during the pandemic when the maritime sector kept us fed, fuelled and supplied often with great personal sacrifice
“Labour’s green prosperity plan will ensure the UK wins the global race for green industries of the future and support the creation of more than 1m jobs in our cities, towns and coastal communities.
“These are places that have been hollowed out and de-industrialised will be re-industrialised. The challenge is huge but the potential rewards are enormous. We must decarbonise. There is no reason we can’t be at the vanguard of that global race.”
In her remarks at the event Ruth Wood, who took over the helm at Mersey Maritime from Mr Shirling-Rooke in July, emphasised the importance of engaging with whoever is in Government and about prioritising green skills and innovation.
“My role and the role of Mersey Maritime is very much about championing the maritime sector,” she said. “We have been actively doing this for the last 20 years and we represent some 200 businesses in the city region and beyond.
“What we really need to do is work harder to make sure the sector is fully heard and have that platform in terms of the opportunities going forward.
“We have fantastic academia, R&D and innovation with the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University as well as the city region being announced as one of the Freeports and an Investment Zones.
“The tide really does feel like it is turning to change and we are on the cusp of that. We need to continue to work hard with local and central Government.”
In his interview with LBN Mr Shirling Rooke suggested decarbonising the maritime sector may cost £2bn a year between now and 2050. Partnership with Government was essential to achieve that, he added.
He explained: “The only way to do this is with strong Government partnerships. For example, if you look at ports providing plug-in power to ships, that hasn’t been done anywhere in the world without Government support. It is incredibly expensive.
“In the maritime sector we are willing and we have a real appetite to lead on decarbonisation. It is also worth noting we don’t look at it as a burden, we see it as an opportunity. Tens of thousands of jobs will be created.
“And they will come where they are needed most – in our coastal communities.”