Weekly Snapshot

Our five minute roundup of key topics affecting UK ports sector this week

The tale of Wagatha Christie and the holdup on the Cross-Channel Ferry

It has been a big week in the sporting world as the nation took to their sofas this morning to find out #whodunnit in 'Wagatha Christie Strikes Again'...It was Rebecca Vardy after all.

But, whilst its 1-0 to Rooney, it was a striking 4-0 win for women's football as the English Lionesses reach the first major women's tournament final since 2009 by scoring against Sweden at Euro 2022. Their categoric win extends their unbeaten run to 19 games, setting an example and moving the goals posts for the future of women on the field. It's not a moment, it's a movement!

Speaking of strikes, workers at Felixstowe have voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action after rejecting a 5% pay rise with action planned for August. This is the next in the series of blows for government as they attempt to stall a wave of unrest in light of the current cost of living crisis. The upcoming disruption comes on the back of significant delays at the Port of Dover this week as holidaymakers waited in long queues that extended along the M20 due to poor resourcing at the French border. However, it was not all bad, and we are pleased to say that it was all smooth sailing yesterday for Richard as he set off on his long car journey to his in-laws in Slovakia!

As excitement heated up for the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last night, an annual 'State of the Climate' report from the Met Office assessing weather events for 2021, highlighted that sea levels have risen by approximately 6.5 inches since 1900 and are now rising by 3 to 5.2mm each year, continuing to expose coastal towns and ports to the threat of powerful storm surges, flooding and winds, a rather sobering thought to end the week on.

Finally, this week the BPA continued its summer tour with Shenaz and George taking a spin around Orkney on a pilot boat, getting an insight into the daily life for the marine pilotage crew at Orkney Harbour Authority. Thank you to David Sawkins and the team for hosting!

Rhona Macdonald
British Ports Association

2021 Port Freight Statistics published

The Department for Transport (DfT) yesterday released the latest numbers on freight movements for 2021.

The release suggests a mixed picture across different parts of the ports industry. Major and minor ports tonnage showed some level of recovery, but numbers remain below 2019 levels.  A total of 445.5 million tonnes were handled at all UK ports, a 2% increase on 2020.

Liquid bulk continued to decrease, consistent with its long term downwards trend. It accounted for 37% of all tonnage handled at UK major ports in 2021. All liquid bulk types declined in 2021, except for oil products, which saw an 8% increase.

All dry bulk categories increased from 2020, totalling 96.6 million tonnes in 2021. Dry bulk levels are higher than pre-pandemic levels, up 5% from 2019. The growth in this category over the past few years can in part be attributed to an increase in biomass, reflecting the shift to renewable fuels.

On LoLo, overall container tonnage increased slightly from 2020 by 2% to 63.4 million tonnes, with all container types increasing. Measured in units, container traffic has increased 6% to 5.9 million units in 2021. This remains slightly below pre-pandemic levels in 2019 (-5%).

The 2021 numbers confirmed a challenging year for RoRo operators and ports. The RoRo freight sector’s 95.2 million tonnes in 2021 was down 3.8% on 2020 traffic and down 8.7% compared to pre-pandemic 2019 levels.

You can see the full summary through the BPA's circular here.
Leadership Port Pledges 

Are you sick of the Conservative Party leadership race yet? Well, like everyone else we are going to write about it anyway because it's the summer holidays and relatively quiet. Whoever we wins we look forward to working with their administration. As well as fainting TV moderators we have noted an increasing number of new promises.

Liz Truss
The bookies favourite has sought to outflank the former Chancellor by promising "full-fat freeports" amongst a raft of policy pledges. Rishi Sunak was one of the first proponents of freeports from the backbenches and then oversaw the implementation from the Treasury. Truss has suggested they are not ambitious enough and the BPA will be seeking to make some of the freeport benefits available more widely.

Truss has also pledged to immediately introduce new minimum service levels for critical national infrastructure. We assume this is targeted at passenger rail and are not yet clear if it would affect ports.

Truss has also promised:
  • to increase Border Force staff by 20% as part of plans to lower migration
  • reverse planned rise in corporation tax and put a temporary moratorium on the green energy levy
  • introduce low tax zones for businesses, new "opportunity zones", and low planning zones (we are not clear if these would all be the same thing or not)
  • deliver northern powerhouse rail in full and introduce a Minister for the North (of England)

Rishi Sunak
Seeking to overturn Truss' lead amongst Conservative Party members, Sunak has pledged to "work with Britain's biggest importers" to encourage them to use Dutch and Spanish ports, instead of French ones, according to media reports. We are unclear how serious this is but it would represent a huge departure from the successful market-led approach to ports, shipping and logistics. The BPA will be following this closely. Sunak has also said he wants to make the UK self-sufficient in energy by 2045 and oversee a "massive expansion in offshore wind". It has been reported he would house migrants on cruise ships instead of hotels.

Sunak has also said he wants to see free flowing trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
In other news...

Whist Parliament and Devolved Administrations are currently in recess it has still been an eventful week in the UK, not withstanding port delays and strikes here is a quick summary of some of the more tangential news that might be of interest:
  • The International Monetary Fund has warned that the global economy is headed for a recession as the three biggest economies all stall in the face of inflation. The April world economic outlook noted that the UK is expected to grow by 3.2 per cent in 2022, but that figure is expected to shrink to 0.5 per cent in 2023.
  • The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants published a report outlining a clear link between air pollution and “an acceleration of the decline in cognitive function often associated with ageing, and with the risk of developing dementia.” While unable to give a precise number of exactly how many have experienced such a decline, a 2018 study of London indicated approximately 60,000 dementia cases could be tied to air quality.
  • UK gas prices rose to their highest level since March as Gazprom reduced the flow of supplies to Europe. The Russian government-owned company said the cut was due to essential maintenance of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. The wholesale price for next month stands at over 375p a therm.
  • A shipment of grain is expected to leave Chornomorsk in Ukraine today testing a political agreement with Russia which could allow the presumption of grain exports to certain counties.
  • The UK government is seeking views and evidence on how to support the future deployment of power with carbon capture, usage and storage.
  • Finally, in the Tory leadership race (also see above), Rishi Sunak has pledged to scrap VAT on energy bills, a move which allies of Liz Truss point out runs contrary to his stance as chancellor. Truss is the current favourite to succeed Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, with a recent YouGov survey of Conservative party members placing her support at 50%.  
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