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Embracing the future

The future of British ports

By David Leighton  

Britain’s maritime sector has always evolved to keep pace with the latest technological innovations. Record-setting tea clippers like Cutty Sark were replaced as sail was superseded by steam-powered vessels, which could carry more cargo, further, faster than ever before and through all weathers. Today, in this digital age, we work in an era of satellite-guided ‘megaships’ such as the vast Milan Maersk, which can carry more than 20,500 shipping containers and visited ABP’s Port of Southampton for the first time last November. Accommodating these immense new vessels is just the latest adaptation that the ports sector has had to absorb, as advancing technology continues to present us with new challenges, but also new opportunities.

In the coming years, new technologies are set to change the nature of global trade and transport even more dramatically. This will become increasingly evident in the ports sector with the introduction of electric vehicles, advanced supply chain management systems and an increasing use of renewable energy. Or in new stream-lined customs processes that could provide innovative solutions to future border requirements. In addition, all these next-generation operations must work with minimal impact on the natural world, as the industry addresses environmental concerns, from managing global pollution and safeguarding the wealth of wildlife found in our oceans, to ensuring clean air around our coastal communities. That’s why, amongst a range of ABP’s other environmental initiatives, our Port of Southampton has recently launched its own Clean Air Strategy – something we will be looking to roll out across our other ports.

On the marine side, the past few years have seen industry innovators take major steps forward in the journey towards making autonomous shipping a tangible reality. Such advances exemplify the current trends in technology and innovation that are set to have a transformative effect on our sector and ABP is working with partners and Government to ensure that the UK is well-placed to take advantage of these developments. To this end, ABP will be proud to take a leading role in supporting the Department for Transport’s ground-breaking ‘Maritime 2050’ initiative, where we will work together to safeguard the long-term future of our industry, the environments in which we operate and the people we employ.

At ABP our people are our priority and new technologies offer real opportunities to ensure they have the skills required to do their jobs safely and efficiently. Embedding a safety-first culture is top of the agenda at ABP and in recent months colleagues have experienced the benefits of a range of technologies, including Virtual Reality, designed to enhance safe working practices in frontline operations. Our investment in simulator training in our ports is also assisting with the development of vital skills for marine and logistics operations.

Meeting future demands for skills also means attracting new and diverse talent into the ports sector. In the past year our commitment to encouraging people to seek careers in the ports industry has seen the creation of the ABP Academy and the expansion of our apprenticeship programme, which now offers young people a route into careers ranging from marine and logistics operations to management. ABP is also determined to tackle the under-representation of women in the ports industry by actively encouraging women to pursue operational and engineering careers in ports and the wider maritime sector. The Women in Maritime Charter promises to play a significant role in improving the gender balance across our maritime industries, from ports and shipping to engineering and services. ABP looks forward to intensifying its work with Government to help drive this important initiative forward.

Meeting future challenges also demands investment in modern infrastructure. ABP is doing its part to ensure that our ports can continue to facilitate trade that benefits communities across the UK. We are investing across our ports in state-of-the-art infrastructure to support automotive manufacturing in the Midlands, steel production in South Wales, and agriculture in East Anglia. In the Humber our investment to double the capacity of container terminals in Hull and Immingham has already resulted in the establishment of new services to the continent.

Ports form part of the often complex supply chains that connect British businesses and manufacturers to international markets. It is therefore crucial that this trade can continue to flow seamlessly and the quality of road and rail links to ports has an important role to play, both by enabling access to markets and by improving the relative global competitiveness of the UK’s manufacturing base. Investment in infrastructure geared towards boosting trade and exports is vital for the nation’s future prosperity.

The future potential of UK ports is not limited to the continued facilitation of trade flows alone. Many of the UK’s ports, including Hull and Port Talbot, offer large areas of development land with excellent landside and marine access. These ports are ideal locations for the import of components and raw materials, as well as the export of finished products, whether that be from large, established businesses, or new and exciting SMEs. This represents a major opportunity to attract investment in new export-led manufacturing, boosting employment and economic growth in regions spanning the length and breadth of our nation. A bold policy to establish Free Ports, or Super Enterprise Zones, could help unlock these opportunities by further increasing the attractiveness of the UK as a great place to invest.

ABP’s ports are continuing to build for the future of our maritime nation. We are committed to embracing new technologies and new ways of working to ensure our ports keep Britain trading, as we chart a new course into the future of interconnected global commerce.

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