COVID-19 more worrying than Brexit for UK Ports

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak in United Kingdom Statistics close-up on digital display. Quarantine map.

The British Ports Association (BPA) has found that UK Ports now face greater uncertainty because of the effects of COVID-19 than they did over the nation’s split with the European Union.

According to new data published by the BPA on 18 May, 36% of UK ports feel confident about their business outlook over the next 12 months and 86% reported either substantial or severe impacts on shipping and customer activities.

The data was published as part of a survey completed by a wide variety of ports to determine the impact of COVID-19 on port businesses.

Overall, 64% of ports identify that they are ‘not so confident’ or ‘not at all confident’ about the outlook for their port in the coming 12 months. Compared to the BPA’s Business Confidence Survey conducted during Brexit negotiations, 69% felt between somewhat confident and very confident. Now, just 36% feel this way.

With regards to whether ports think the Brexit transition period (set to end on 31 December 2020) should be extended, 43% of respondents say yes, 32% say no, 26% say they do not know.

Commenting on the results, Phoebe Warneford-Thomson, policy and economic analyst at the British Ports Association, said that as we are now several months into the COVID-19 pandemic the results do not “come as a surprise”.

“The results also show that 44% of ports have seen difficulties obtaining PPE and that support for furlough has been the most popular Government support measure, so we were glad to see the Chancellor’s recent Job Retention scheme extension announcement,” she said.

There have of course been operational challenges for all ports and 65% report a reduction in landside operational staff, 49% report a reduction in marine operational staff, 24% report a reduction in management staff, 29% report issues sourcing mechanical components, 44% report issues sourcing PPE and 5% report issues with storage space for cargo.

In terms of the overall workforce at a port, 89% of ports had seen a minor to substantial impact, due to illness, self-isolation or furlough.

“Even in a time of crisis, ports must ensure all services are maintained, such as cargo facilities, security arrangements and safety systems, often with a full staff. However, ports are not only seeing a substantial impact on their customer activity and obstacles to commercial operations but facing requests for assistance from port users too. Ports have quite literally helped keep the country supplied during the pandemic.”

Acknowledging the importance of Ports, the BPA will be publishing a set of sector-specific proposals in an Economic Recovery Plan for government shortly, to highlight our proposals for how ports can assist Britain in its recovery from potentially what could be the deepest recession since records began.

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