Research by executive search firm maintains that just 16% of port bosses have made significant or practical plans for Britain leaving the EU. But some industry figures express scepticism over findings.
Nearly 60% of respondents now expecting negative impact, according to Odgers Berndtson, with only one in four of the opinion that they can handle the changes well
ONLY 25% OF UK PORT LEADERS THINK THEY ARE CURRENTLY IN A POSITION TO HANDLE BREXIT WELL, ACCORDING TO ODGERS BERNDTSON.
EIGHT out of 10 ports and harbours in the UK have undertaken little or no planning for Brexit, according to a survey conducted by executive search firm Odgers Berndtson.
With just 10 weeks to go before Britain’s departure from the European Union, just 16% of a sample described as “around 100” said they had made any “significant or practical” plans for what will happen after March 29.
The remainder were equally split between ports doing “only some high-level planning” and doing nothing at all, even though over half (59%) expect a negative or strongly negative impact.
Only 25% of UK port leaders think they are currently in a position to handle Brexit well. A third believe they could cope, but ideally with further investment, while over 40% either don’t know or doubt their ability to handle additional demands.
The report did not mention individual ports by name, on the grounds that the research had been conducted on the basis of anonymity.
But according to Odgers Berndtson, the findings could be significant in the light of government hopes that regional ports will alleviate congestion at key ferry ports in southern England.
Some ports industry representatives reacted to the claims with scepticism. Tim Morris, chief executive of the UK Major Ports Group, claimed that he could name 16 ports that had undertaken Brexit preparation off the top of his head.
“The survey doesn’t reflect my experience of talking to UKMPG members, the very largest ports handling 75% of UK port volumes,” he said.
“In many cases the biggest ports already handle significant quantities of non-EU cargoes so already have the systems and processes in place for handling third country trade.
“The UK’s port sector has proved itself over time to be resilient and adaptable. We expect the same to be the case with Brexit, although greater clarity from politicians on the future relationship and the route to it would undoubtedly make transition quicker and smoother.”
Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association, said that the ports industry had been involved in extensive planning and discussion with the government on the challenges no-deal Brexit would present. But as there was still no certainty around the UK’s future trading relationship with Europe, it was not surprising that some ports had been unable to fully prepare.
“It has been clear from the outset that ferry ports in particular face significant challenges and we know that government is well aware of these,” said Mr Ballantyne.
“The industry has been working at a national level as well as with local resilience forums and other groups to ensure that ports and partners across the freight and logistics sectors — including government agencies at the border — will be prepared for any potential disruption.
“This research underlines the importance of securing an agreement and negotiating a future relationship that does not put in place any new barriers to free flowing trade.”
Further support came from officers’ union Nautilus, which commented: “This is a deeply disturbing analysis and raises further serious questions about the UK’s ability to cope with some of the consequences of Brexit.
“Given the scale of the nation’s reliance upon maritime trade — and especially with other EU member states — it is something that government ministers should be proactively engaged with.”
Labour’s shipping spokesman Karl Turner argued that it is the government’s responsibility to make sure ports are prepared for Brexit.
“The fact this study shows the majority of ports are not ready is another example of [Transport Secretary] Chris Grayling’s shambolic Brexit planning,” he said.
“One thing the government can do right now to help our ports sector is to rule out a disastrous no-deal Brexit. The prime minister should listen to the majority of MPs across the House and take a no-deal Brexit off the table.”