British ports welcome increased furloughing and social distancing guidance as UK economy reawakens

The British Ports Association (BPA) has welcomed the announcement by the Chancellor today that the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will be extended for an additional four months in the UK, until the end of October. This will help ports recover as the UK economy starts to reawaken.

Alongside this, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has also this week published updated social distancing guidance to help businesses in England understand how to work safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping as many people as possible two metres apart from those they do not live with. Government hope that this will give businesses a practical framework to think about what they need to do to continue, or restart, operations, where it is safe to do so. It also includes guidance on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) use and the BPA is aware of supplies being stretched.

The guidance was developed in consultation with a wide range of industry stakeholders, including the British Ports Association, and includes requirements for employers in England to risk assess and modify workplaces if needed to mitigate Coronavirus risks.

Commenting, Sara Walsh, Corporate Services Manager at the British Ports Association, who has been leading on much of the COVID-19 response for the sector, including developing the BPA’s industry-wide ‘Ports Coronavirus Information Hub’, said:

“The announcement regarding furloughing is good news for UK ports. This has been by far the most useful Coronavirus support mechanism for ports and unlike other measures such as those for commercial tenants which has left many ports out of pocket, it has not led to knock-on effects elsewhere.

The ports industry is cooperating closely with the Department for Transport and other government agencies and the availability of PPE is becoming an issue. PPE supplies such as sanitiser and masks are beginning to run low in some ports.

To date the Government has advised that masks and gloves are not required outside the clinical environment although some employers have been allocating equipment to staff as a resilience measure. Masks can also be a normal requirement for some roles, for example to protect from breathing in dust particulate.

As the general public are now encouraged to wear face coverings when on public transport and in some shops this could cause strain on mask supplies, which are already stretched. We recently surveyed our port members and 44% reported issues sourcing PPE. Some ports have also reported substantial price increases which could indicate profiteering in supply chains which alongside supply issues will cause significant problems for the sector. This is wrong and should be stamped out.”

Port professionals, including marine pilots, play a critical role in facilitating 95% of UK trade. Half of the county’s food imports come through our maritime gateways, along with medicines, energy and fuel. Those port workers responsible for making it happen have been identified as ‘key workers’ by the Government and continue to need support as the lockdown now starts to be gradually lifted.

Alongside the guidance for businesses, the Department for Transport has also issued guidance for transport operators in England today. It includes some useful information for ports about queuing, crowd management, cleaning, ventilation, communication and training.

Sara Walsh, Corporate Services Manager at the British Ports Association also adds:

“While some of the government’s new suite of guidance documents for businesses and transport operators are broadly speaking relevant to the ports and wider maritime sector, they are quite general in nature and are designed to be applicable for all types of organisations.

The maritime sector is no like no other and has worked together during this unprecedented time to overcome the challenges faced as best it can whilst still ensuring food, medicines, energy, fuel and other products continue to flow into the country. We welcome the government’s updated guidance issued this week and have begun developing similar high level guidance for port operations so workers can continue social distancing where possible and return to work safely. This guidance will be co-badged with other maritime industry bodies with the support of Department for Transport and Public Health England officials.”