UK Ports Industry

What Ports do

Ports have, throughout history, been a place where goods and people arrive or leave the country by sea. The UK port industry, by virtue of our long coastline and maritime history, is the largest in Europe, handling almost 500 million tonnes of freight in 2012.

Just as the areas they serve vary, so to do ports themselves. The port sector in the UK has changed substantially over the last twenty years. Privatisation and the end of the National Dock Labour Scheme changed the face of the industry. The majority of ports in Britain now fall into one of three categories of governance. They may be under private ownership, municipal control, or be run by a trust.

All three are open to market forces, and are run independently as stand-alone, self-financing enterprises, free from Government support or subsidy. Government’s laissez faire approach was firmly established in Modern Ports, the last full-scale review of national port policy. The National Policy Statement for Ports, which introduces forecasts to our sector, was published in 2012.

Much of the cargo entering and leaving Britain is in the form of raw materials – oil, chemicals, petroleum, ores, grains and feedstuffs – the commodities needed to fuel the economy. Finished goods include vehicles, fresh foods, steel, timber, building materials, machinery and manufactured goods – to name but a few. Over 95% of imports and exports by volume, and 75% by value still pass through the country’s ports.

In addition to its traditional cargo and passenger handling roles, the port industry offers a range of other services, supplying the offshore energy industry and maintaining ferry links to island communities. Some provide auction markets for the fishing industry whereas others are specialists in the fast growing leisure and recreation fields. A particular growth area in recent years has been the cruise liner trade. There are many ports now providing excellent facilities around the country as the tourist market grows.

Ports can make a contribution to solving national transport problems. Increasing congestion and environmental damage caused by land modes can be reduced by using the sea option. To promote the maritime sector, the BPA supports the work of Freight by Water, an organisation dedicated to the promotion of short sea and coastal shipping. Freight by Water is part of a network of short sea promotion centres throughout the EU.

Ports are often at the heart of their communities. Whatever their size, they are major providers of employment within their areas, and through leisure activities such as yachting, many contribute to local economies in other ways. Many of the BPA’s members are Trust or Municipal ports, and their governance structures are often rooted in the representation of local interests and concerns. The BPA is committed to promoting the viability of the Trust and Municipal models, and was heavily involved in the production of the Modernising Trust Ports 1st and 2nd editions as well as the Municipal Ports Review.