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DfT promises to sort muddle of maritime policies in response to major Transport Committee report

20 June 2023

The Government has said it will carry out a wide-ranging review of its policies to modernise the UK’s maritime sector, following a number of recommendations by the Transport Committee on cutting emissions, enabling new technology and investing in skilling up workers.

Among the headline recommendations of the Committee’s report into the Government’s 2019 ‘Maritime 2050’ strategy, it called on the Department for Transport (DfT) to work with industry to review and streamline the “muddle” of 184 recommendations it set itself four years ago. In its response, DfT said it will establish a new cross-departmental Maritime Council to help it and industry review progress and agree how best to prioritise. 

Ministers said an updated Clean Maritime Plan to decarbonise the sector will be published later this year, with “indicative targets” and a “road map” for how to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In its report, the cross-party Committee said DfT’s updated Plan should include details of how new regulations will support the use of future fuels and vessel types, giving industry certainty about how to invest. 

However, DfT said it was unwilling to commit, beyond 2025, to long-term investment in UK SHORE – a programme of investment in infrastructure projects focused on shore-side electrical charging. The Committee called for further state investment as part of the solution needed to make widespread provision of shore-side power viable. The response said: “UK SHORE interventions will continue to be rolled out until 2025 helping to bridge the gap between new, clean solutions and conventional technologies.” 

On ‘smart shipping’ technologies, the Committee said DfT should quickly bring in new legislation to facilitate regulation that would enable companies to adopt remote-controlled vessels, and autonomous ships that use sensors to help them navigate and assist crew. Ministers have now agreed to publish a response to DfT’s the Future of Transport review “in the coming weeks”, saying its “priority” is to provide “legal certainty to industry”. However, the response said it will not be possible to introduce new legislation within this parliamentary session. 

The Government rejected MPs’ call to bring forward its promised Seafarers’ Welfare Charter as soon as possible and make it mandatory for UK operators. MPs argued this was necessary to hold employers to high standards and support seafarers’ mental health, and that the Government’s current plan to ask operators to sign up voluntarily won’t be enough to protect seafarers. The Department said it will “initially” launch the Charter on a voluntary basis, monitor firms’ uptake of its provisions, and “actively keep under review the need for further legislation”. 

Also concerning the workforce, the Committee urged DfT carry out a review of funding for training in the maritime sector, with a cost-benefit assessment of providing fully funded training places for officers and ratings. MPs heard about the urgency of this issue because the rate of technological change risks leaving workers without skills that industry needs. The Government said it increased the rate of funding for cadetships through SMarT funding from 30% to 50% in 2022. It added that a ‘Seafarer Cadet Review’ made recommendations relating to course content and career progression, and is “currently in its implementation phase”. DfT also said it would maintain the link between its investment in training and revenues from tonnage tax. 

Ministers accepted the Committee’s recommendation to set concrete targets for growing the UK ship register. The number of vessels on it shrank by a third between 2009 and 2021, and is currently the 24th largest in the world (by tonnage). The report argued that growing the register will make the UK more influential in setting standards for safety and workers’ welfare. The DfT’s response said the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has a three-year Strategic Growth Programme to create conditions for growing the UK register. Key performance indicators are being prepared and will be published later this year, it said. 

There was a positive response to the Committee’s recommendation that DfT should develop Regional Maritime Clusters – groups of local firms and institutions focused on improving coastal industry. The Committee argued this would help revitalise and level up areas around ports. DfT said it will launch further work on this later in the year but would not commit funding to help develop new clusters. 

Chair comment

Transport Committee Chair Iain Stewart said:

“Top of our agenda with this report was urging ministers to bring some order to the muddle of recommendations in its Maritime 2050 strategy. Credit was due to the Government for producing it in the first place, and now we welcome their agreement to sift through it and regularly monitor progress.

“We also look forward to poring over DfT’s promised update to the Clean Maritime Plan at the end of the year. But as part of this we strongly believe the Government should commit to long term investment in UK SHORE beyond 2025. The ability to plan long term is especially crucial to the maritime sector, and we believe there will be disappointment at the uncertainty this will cause.

“It is similarly disappointing that new legislation to enable smart shipping appears to be drifting out to sea and in danger of being abandoned before the next general election. This Committee has noticed a lack of new much-needed legislation coming from DfT across its work on other modes of transport too. Like shore-side power, smart shipping technology will be crucial to ensuring the UK’s sector can compete with the world. Wasn’t that one of the main reasons for producing Maritime 2050 in the first place?

“That brings us to the need to grow the UK ship register. While it has been in decline, it is positive that DfT is taking steps to make this a strategic priority, but investing in smart shipping and shore power would be a huge benefit with this endeavour as well.

“If the Government wishes to be a leading maritime force it needs to invest in its people both in terms of skills and welfare. The Committee recommended that the Seafarers’ Welfare Charter be mandatory; it is a shame that ministers are still committed to making this voluntary.”

Further information

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