25 September 2019
BPA Conference Report from the Labour Party’s Conference in Brighton, by Head of Policy Mark Simmonds.
As part of our engagement with politicians, the British Ports Association attends the party political conferences each year, promoting our key messages and the importance of the ports industry. The BPA were in a wind and rain-swept Brighton this week for the Labour Party Conference. We caught up with a number of MPs, MEPs, MSPs, AMs and local political leaders who have an interest in ports and maritime in amongst the dozens of events and speeches.
Much of the substance of the week was overshadowed by political news in the Labour Party and then from the Supreme Court, but there were plenty of announcements and interesting discussions that you may have missed.
The conference hall saw the usual parade of speeches and announcements from the shadow cabinet. On Brexit, the Party confirmed plans to hold a referendum after an election. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would stay neutral in any second referendum on Brexit, to the surprise of many. Mr Corbyn confirmed that he would not consent to a referendum until an extension to negotiations had been requested. The referendum would be whether to remain in the EU or leave with an ‘alternative deal’ negotiated by a Labour Government, which would include plans to stay inside the EU Customs Union and close alignment with the single market.
On energy, Labour committed to renationalising the electricity grid, while suppliers would remain private as well as moving forward the Government’s Net Zero targets. Labour wants the economy to be decarbonised by 2030 instead of the current 2050 target imposed by Theresa May shortly before leaving office. This met some resistance by trade unions worried about the effect on certain industries. On offshore wind, the Party criticised the speed of deployment and promised a new ‘People’s Power Plan’ as well as committing to removing planning restrictions that stop onshore windfarms. The Party said it would build 37 new offshore windfarms. Government would have a 51% stake in this with 20% of the public profits being invested into coastal communities with the rest reinvested into new renewables, improvements to the energy system and climate transition. Shadow Business and Energy Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said that this would deliver 52GW of offshore wind by 2030 and would need £83bn of public and private investment.
Labour had previously announced plans in July to break up the Treasury and devolve a part of it to the north of England with a £250bn fund for infrastructure and transport spending. A large proportion of this ‘national transformation fund’ will be spent on the “green industrial revolution”. Ports that supply the construction sector may be interested in the Shadow Chancellor’s commitment to build one million new homes.
On employment laws, the Party promised to repeal the 2016 Trade Union Act to roll out collective bargaining across the UK’s different sectors. It would also retain the EU working time directive, limiting working weeks to 48 hours with no opt-out. The most eye-catching proposal was however to set a target to reduce the working week to 32 hours within 10 years, with “no loss of pay”. Labour also pledged to ban zero-hours contracts and raise institute a £10p/h living wage.
The Party also announced that it would, amongst other things:
- Create a new publicly owned drug-development company
- New resources for Scot and Welsh Govs
- Abolish private schools and redistribute their assets
The BPA were active in the conference fringe, attending events hosted by Maritime UK, ABP, the RMT and several others related to transport, trade, the environment and infrastructure.
Maritime UK hosted a reception on Sunday evening. The Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Andy McDonald, made a speech. We were pleased to hear of Labour’s continued agreement with the policy of a mixed model of port ownership that is independent of Government and operated in a commercial and competitive environment. Mr McDonald praised the ports sector and mentioned many of the statistics from our recent report on the value of the sector. He took the time to meet representatives of industry before he spoke. Shadow Skills Minister Gordon Marsden also spoke and we were again pleased to hear a supportive and pragmatic voice from the Labour frontbench. We are grateful to Julian Seaman, harbour master and director of marine operations at nearby Shoreham Port for giving a brief welcome on behalf of the ports industry.
The RMT union event was quite lively this year where they were again highlighting pay and conditions for seafarers, particularly on cruise ships and ferries. This is part of their ‘Save Our Seafarers 2020’ campaign. Shadow Maritime Minister Karl Turner (also MP for Hull East) spoke in full support of the RMT and pledged to improve safety standards in UK shipping and spoke positively of the RMT’s proposals to introduce ‘cabotage’ protections for UK crew and ships based on the US Jones Act.
Elsewhere we attended a number of other fringe events, including on air quality, ethical trade, Transport for the North, and the use of technology to increase trade, although it was relatively quiet this year in terms of the maritime sector.
The BPA will be at the Conservative Party Conference next week in Manchester (even if their MPs are forced to stay in Westminster!) and the SNP conference in Aberdeen after that.