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Democracy and disconnects in the ports sector

Democracy and disconnects in the ports sector
Bearing in mind how deep into their pockets some port operators have had to reach to fund road and rail connections in order to gain approval for port developments in the UK, some of the comments made by Shipping Minister John Hayes at the UK Major Ports Group (UKMPG) parliamentary reception were interesting.

Declaring himself "determined to achieve better connectivity around ports", he talked of a "shared goal of better connected ports driving forward our economy".

The Minister, four months into his appointment, said: "This Government is committed to record investment in our national transport infrastructure. I think we have to do more about linking our ports to our transport strategy in general. Often there is a disconnect.

"It is really important we see our roads policy closely linked to our ports policy – it is really important to identify these linkages."
Hayes also had strong words on the European Union's latest attempts to introduce a Port Services Directive. His predecessor, Stephen Hammond, had been absolutely right to resist that with every possible means he could, he said.

The Government has, at this point in the proceedings, secured an exemption for British ports from some elements of proposals. However, final confirmation of this exemption rests with the EU Parliament.

"The UK government will not want to adopt anything that damages the vitality of the [ports] industry," said Hayes. "We will work with all in this room – employers, stakeholders, trade unions – to resist this at every turn."

The Minister was certainly very robust in his comments, said Bristol Port ceo Simon Bird, who has taken over from Forth Ports ceo Charles Hammond as the new chairman of UKMPG.

Speaking later to Seatrade Global, he said: "This is the third attempt by the EU to force unwelcome regulation on ports throughout Europe. We and the Government are aligned in being against these regulations."

There is still a battle ahead, he said. Europe's transport committee considered the Directive early in 2014 and put forward about 400 amendments. "But then the European elections intervened and since then about one-third of the MEPs have changed.

"Although the UK hopes to have secured an exemption, this now goes forward to the European Parliament, where they have the power to review the text and delete/insert as they see fit."

John Hayes, who described his views on the EU as "virtually unprintable, certainly unmentionable" said that since becoming Minister he had come to appreciate the value of the ports sector.

"As a government, we have slightly undersold the ports industry," he said. "We can shout even louder about the significance of this sector, the people it employs and the energy, enthusiasm and enterprise that characterises it."

But as in Europe, so in the UK – democracy moves in mysterious ways.

More than one person at the UKMPG reception was heard to remark that the Shipping Minister's remarks on the need for connectivity were very positive – but with only six months until the UK General Election, who could really take the long-term view?

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