What happens behind the port gates?

25 March 2024

Blog by Tom Harrison, Group Strategic Accounts Director

Ports and harbours are deeply rooted in the UK’s history, having unlocked intercontinental travel and trade possibilities during the industrial revolution, and continuing to this day to connect us with the rest of the world. Most people will be aware that the majority of commercial and consumer goods that arrive into the UK from overseas, do so via port, making them a major facilitator of our vast supply chain.

While this is a key part of what happens at ports, it doesn’t even scratch the surface of the work being done across all our sites on a daily basis, and most people would be surprised to learn about all the things that happen in between goods arriving and leaving a port.

If you regularly shop online, it’s possible  your delivery has come from an on-port warehouse, rather than one of the brand’s regional warehouses. And smaller brands, that aren’t able to have their own large distribution centres, can rent as little as one pallet space at a port. This approach slashes unnecessary legs from the ship-to-warehouse-to-dispatch system journey.

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Multi-user warehouse at The Port of Liverpool

Take the food supply chain as another example. There are three large processing facilities at the Port of Liverpool, including Europe’s largest corn mill, which are fed imported products by conveyor from our grain terminal – getting the products off the ship, into storage, and onward to the plant without going anywhere near a public road.

And it’s not just agribulks; the Port of Sheerness has a dedicated banana ripening facility. So if you’re importing bananas through a southern port, why truck them into the Midlands for ripening, only to have to deliver them back to the South, when you can get it all done without leaving the port in the first place?

All kinds of products can be attended to on the port estate. We work with car manufacturers to carry out pre-delivery inspections on their vehicles at the port rather than at the car dealership. We also provide on-port treatment for timber products, instead of sending them to interim facilities to be treated before they’re sent on to the builders merchant to be used in construction projects.

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London Medway - Automotive

It just makes sense for that initial phase of manufacturing, processing or treatment to occur as close as possible to where the product enters the country, taking extra steps out of the goods’ supply chain journey. Doing all of this on the port estate offers massive benefits, including:

  • Efficiency: it streamlines and reduces touchpoints along the supply chain, meaning goods get to distribution centres quicker. That goes a long way to improving customer service – an enviable advantage in a competitive marketplace.
  • Cost savings: it drives down distribution costs by consolidating services and suppliers, as well as by requiring shorter travel distances by sea and road.
  • Sustainability: it slashes unnecessary freight miles, in turn reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

We were hugely proud last year when the Port of Liverpool was named the UK’s top location for port-centric logistics potential in a study by Knight Frank. The property adviser analysed and ranked 41 UK ports, assessing their potential for future logistics investment and development, based on 13 criteria; Liverpool ranked first for forecast export growth, and in the top 10% for access to consumer markets, skilled labour, availability of land, port capacity, import growth potential and the size of its existing logistics market.

However you define it, port-centric logistics is all about positioning ports as central hubs in the global trade network, and that’s our vision not only for the Port of Liverpool, but for all our ports across the UK and Ireland. We’re ambitious about being at the beating heart of an agile, efficient and sustainable supply chain, supporting all kinds of businesses during times of high demand and volatile market disruption.  

To find out more about how our port-centric services can work for you, contact our expert team here