“My very simple message today is that the British Government will pull out all the stops to keep the UK a world-leading maritime centre.”
Those were the words of Greg Hands MP, Chief Secretary to the Treasury in his keynote speech to the London International Shipping Week 2015 (LISW15) conference this September. This is a serious statement from a senior British politician and shows just how far we as an industry have come in raising our profile at government level.
LISW15 can be considered a great success from many perspectives. Thousands of maritime executives attended the week, with many travelling large distances to participate in one or more of the 100 events covering all aspects of the maritime industry.
The week was covered by the maritime, national and international press. The Baltic’s Jeremy Penn spoke on the BBC’s Today Programme, explaining London’s role as a leading maritime business services centre.
LISW15 also enabled widespread and in-depth networking and saw real business being done.
10 government ministers took part in the week, which received input from five government departments. The new shipping minister Robert Goodwill put in a strong appearance as did the secretary of state for transport, Patrick McLoughlin. Both were present for a roundtable meeting held at the start of the week at 10 Downing Street during which the recommendations of the Maritime Growth Study were discussed.
The Maritime Growth Study, calls for the formation of a Ministerial Working Group to drive forward the study’s recommendations, in particular the establishment of a well-funded, consolidated, official body that is able to represent shipping and present UK shipping in its widest sense, both at home and abroad.
The Government revealed during the week that it is already taking the recommendation to form a Ministerial Working Group forward and that the secretary of state, Patrick McLoughlin, will chair its first meeting. This is the most important outcome of LISW15 to date and is very encouraging, demonstrating that the government is genuine about current and future efforts to engage with and help the UK shipping industry.
Many Baltic members will have heard of Maritime UK, a group of trade associations for the UK maritime services sector of which the Baltic is a part. It is my belief that Maritime UK is a strong candidate for becoming the official body to represent the UK shipping industry on behalf of all of the representative organisations, including the Baltic. Maritime UK is already up and running, with the Baltic playing a leading role in its policy and decision making. The Baltic must of course also always be mindful of the wide international constituency it represents, so influence in the UK is valuable, but is far from being our only objective.
Crucial to London’s success as a maritime business services centre is the presence of shipowners. The Labour government of 10 years ago and its Chancellor, Gordon Brown, grew to understand this. At the behest of John Prescott, an honorary life member of the Baltic and the cabinet member at the time with most understanding of the shipping industry, Brown let go of his plans to change the tax status of non-domiciled residents among whom were many shipowners controlling a significant proportion of the world’s commercial fleet. We continue to work to impress on the current government the importance of the presence of UK based shipowners to the UK economy.
There are still many non-domiciled shipowners residing in the UK, bringing in huge amounts of business for London’s shipping services sector. Should their non-dom status be changed by the current government, as has been indicated, this business could easily be re-apportioned to other maritime clusters such as Singapore which provides a competitive tax environment for shipowners.
LISW15 has created excellent opportunities and the means to engage with and convey vital messages to the current UK government. Every new government and its department for Transport and Exchequer has to reach an understanding of our industry, which is particularly complex. It is very encouraging that the industry now has the ear of the Secretary of State for Transport. The Baltic will do everything possible to use these opportunities and means to guarantee an optimal business environment for its members.