The great UK port planning dilemma

Should it come as a surprise to learn that only six or so of 25 of the UK’s minor and major ports have undertaken ‘significant high level and practical planning’ for Brexit? That’s the headline finding of a survey undertaken by global executive search firm Odgers Berndston.

It’s little wonder that so few have made concrete plans; what exactly are they supposed to plan for? Ports have known for nearly two years that the UK is leaving the European Union and from the outside it’s easy to mistake that as ample time to set a plan in motion. But in reality there has been little, if any, clear guidance on what UK ports will face on March 30, the day after the EU ties are officially severed.

In that context, other findings of the Odgers Berndston survey make sense: a further 10 of the group of ports surveyed said they had undertaken ‘some planning but only at high level’. The rest said they are not planning anything until they know what is happening.

I’ve desperately tried to have Brexit blinkers, so sick am I of the political manoeuvring that has come to encapsulate the whole process.

I can only imagine how bewildered port executives are managing to put plans in place for every eventuality, and how they are able to secure financing for these Plan B through to Z scenarios.

Indeed, circling back to the survey findings, there is an important distinction to make on that leading statement on a perceived lack of preparedness. While the majority of ports surveyed may have said that they have undertaken limited or no planning, that is not to say that they haven’t attended seminars, taken part in Brexit discussions, lobbied Members of Parliament, undertaken preparedness drills and spent many a sleepless night trying to second guess firstly whether the UK will have a divorce deal in place with the EU by March 29 and secondly, if not, what the trading picture will ultimately look like.

Richard Ballantyne, British Ports Association chief executive and a key voice for the UK ports industry, understands their pain. He says that while there might be nothing concrete in place, there are plenty of options being considered.

Other statistics from the survey demonstrate that ports have real concerns and are certainly not burying their heads in the sand. More than half of the respondents said they expect a negative or strongly negative impact from Brexit, and only 25% of those surveyed thought they are currently in a position to handle Brexit well.

Personally, I feel that no-one can fault UK ports for their efforts. They have doggedly, at a port-by-port, group-wide and industry level, made sure that they have had a seat at the relevant table when discussing the trade implications of Brexit. But ultimately they don’t set the agenda and they can’t foresee the outcome. Unfortunately, it seems politicians can’t either – everyone’s in the dark with just weeks to go until the guillotine falls.

Article by Carly Fields, Experienced Maritime Editor

Article appears in Carly Fields LinkedIn page

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