The maritime and logistics sectors that Peel Ports operates in need a sustained supply of young talent. The announcement by the Chancellor at the weekend that there was to be a major change in vocational training, particularly for the 16-19 year old age group, is broadly to be welcomed, although we are yet to see the details of what is proposed and it is questionable whether the investment is adequate.
Similarly the expected announcement of the reduction of over 13,000 separate qualifications to 15 world class routes is a step in the right direction - much better suited to business needs and much more easily understood by the business community!
It’s not just Government that needs to step up to the plate in terms of education and preparing young people for the world of work: the private sector has to do its bit too. That is one of the key reasons for our involvement in the Maritime Knowledge Hub in Liverpool.
Skills development aside, there is much more that we want to see from the Chancellor’s budget on Wednesday to stimulate further economic growth and, more importantly, boost productivity.
Investment in infrastructure and removing barriers to international trade for businesses should be integral to the budget – Brexit or not. The only credible means for getting the country’s finances back in good order and reducing the trade deficit is to create economic growth, principally through exports – and getting new companies on to the export ladder. To support this, the government needs to accelerate and escalate programmes to stimulate trade within the UK and help businesses to either start or increase export activity.
And in terms of future trade deals, there also needs to be clarity on what steps the government will take to improve the UK’s competitiveness in relation to European ports. For example, how might customs and tariff regimes change in coming years?
We already have a very strong port infrastructure as a country. However, this is threatened in the medium to long term by a failure to invest in onward transport infrastructure, i.e. road and rail. As well as meeting its commitment to existing developments, the government should work with businesses to develop future-proof plans to allow the efficient and reliable movement of goods in and around the UK.
We enjoy a very positive relationship with various branches of government and I try to be optimistic about what our political leaders can achieve. But I also need to maintain a realistic outlook.
The public sector as a whole needs to improve its understanding of the business community and the supply chain it depends on. It can easily become fixated on flagship developments, such as the Heathrow expansion or HS2. This risks overlooking shipping, which is how the vast majority of the UK’s imports and exports are moved, and the myriad ‘lesser’ ways in which government can help or hinder commerce.
We will see on Wednesday the extent to which Mr Hammond appreciates how to support those who are best placed to help UK plc navigate its way through turbulent economic waters.
Mark Whitworth, Peel Ports CEO
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