Maritime 2050: the way forward?

Partner Mark Lloyd, who is also Chairman of the Admiralty Solicitors Group and Director of Maritime London, reviews the UK government’s latest thinking on the state of the marine industry and the way ahead.

The UK Department for Transport’s National Maritime Strategy Document, Maritime 2050 has now been “live” for six months. Since its launch there has been some debate as to whether the vision and recommendations set out within the document will be achievable or whether there has been an underestimation of other potential clusters and macroeconomic imperatives that impact on the UK’s current position on the world maritime stage.

It can be said that the 2050 Strategy has already been the catalyst for substantive positive change in the UK maritime sector and is ambitious, but realistic in its outlook for the sector. There is, however, much more to do.

The development of a national maritime strategy was one of the strongest recommendations of the Maritime Growth Study published in 2015. Maritime 2050 is the resulting acceptance by the UK government. It is important to note that Maritime 2050 was produced in true collaboration between industry and government, the sector has ‘ownership of the document’ and the industry will hold government’s feet to the fire in regard to the implementation of the recommendations. Government in return will expect sign up, input and true partnership and collaboration from industry.

The Maritime 2050 document is a weighty tome but there is a very useful executive summary (of only 46 pages) which gives a useful introduction to the background aims and objectives of the strategy.

The executive summary sets out the strategic ambitions which include enhancing the UK’s strength and maritime professional services to maintaining, and enhancing the UK’s competitive advantage; leading the way on maritime growth; strengthening the reputation for Maritime Innovation with a focus on maritime technology; focusing on our leading role in maritime safety and security and growing the maritime work force and (transforming its diversity); supporting a liberalised trading regime; supporting the maritime infrastructure within the UK and enhancing the UK’s reputation as a leading country in the IMO and other international organisations. Finally the ambition is to expand the UK wide maritime cluster and showcase UK maritime to the world.

The strategic ambitions are also flagged as part of the seven high level themes. The Recommendations of Maritime 2050 can be found from Page 34 onwards of the executive summary document.

The purpose of this article is not to go through the values, ambitions and recommendations of the strategy document in detail but to merely comment upon debate as to whether the UK government has underestimated the move of global trade and business to other maritime centres.

Technical innovation

Much has been written about the rise of alternative maritime centres such as Singapore, Dubai and Shanghai. There are a number of excellent studies/indices that refer to the position of the UK in the global world maritime economy such as the Global Financial Centres index. Professional bodies such as the LMAA publish statistics setting out the utilisation of arbitration services in the maritime sphere within the UK and also provide substantiated correlation/cross referencing to alternative dispute resolution centres. From all of these studies it is clear (as is recognised in the strategy document) that the UK still remains in a pre-eminent position in maritime law, marine insurance, ship broking and maritime education and despite the prevailing discourse to the contrary, we continue to maintain market share in these sectors.

In the professional services industry, since the days of Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House, UK based maritime law, insurance, ship broking, finance, accountancy, classification and consultancy has always been central to the facilitation of global seaborne trade. Services remain a core element of our maritime offer and is a sector where the UK remains the undisputed global leader. This said, the shift in trade eastwards, the rise in technical innovation and the fast-changing regulatory environment have created, I believe, the greatest challenges but also opportunities of a generation within our industry. Therefore, this strategy document could not have come at a more crucial time.

As part of its implementation, the Maritime 2050 strategy document is to be supplemented by route maps, including a Maritime Business Environment Study commissioned by Maritime London with the support of the DfT and the City of London Corporation. The report will be published during London International Shipping Week (LISW) in September, providing up to date analysis of the UK’s position in the global maritime services and the framework to ensure London and the UK retains its pre-eminence in maritime professional services.

LISW, since the first event in 2015 has gone from strength to strength and includes very substantial engagement at senior government level including Secretary of State and Ministerial support. LISW and the initiatives which will be announced and developed during the conference in September will be very good opportunities to establish the progress that has and will be made since the launch of Maritime 2050 in January 2019.

A strong business environment for shipping interests is fundamental to the rest of the UK remaining at the top of the tables/indices for the centres of maritime excellence. It is for this reason that this objective is a central tenet of the maritime 2050 strategy.

There is also welcome recognition in the strategy of the need to take a modern approach to regulation particularly as the sector moves towards decarbonisation. The UK's ability to remain the regulatory and intellectual capital of global shipping must be instrumental in retaining our competitive advantage. To that end the industry government body, the Clean Maritime Council is laying out how the UK will take the lead in regulation regarding the decarbonisation of shipping, thus supporting research and development, and importantly, our insurers, lawyers and financiers.

Uncertain times

The report does recognise that the move in global trade eastwards will be a fundamental driver in the sectors future and the fact the UK must do more to engage internationally and ensure the UK wins a higher percentage of new business in what is an ever-expanding market. Off the back of the findings, the Department for International Trade (DIT) has already bolstered its resource to promote the UK maritime industries in overseas markets and will be implementing a five-year Export Plan, highlighting the markets that are going supported and, importantly, what the nature of that support will be.

We are in uncertain times and how the UK reacts to the fast changing environment will define our future. Maritime Research Innovation UK (MarRI-UK) is a recent initiative, led by industry as an example of the objectives of Maritime 2050 being taken forward. This initiative to which companies, industry and academic institutions are being invited to sign up has been created to address the lack of coordination and resource in maritime research and development within the UK and aims to build coordination and resources in this field. The tech and R&D environment (together with the objectives to support and promote education and the people that are so critical to the continued growth and success of the UK) is a continued and developing focus of government.

Maritime 2050 is therefore only the beginning of the story. It is now up to industry and government to work proactively together to achieve the recommendations within it. Until the deliverables can be judged there will remain some debate on whether the UK has done enough to retain its position in global shipping. One thing is for sure however, if we carry on at this pace, I believe we are well placed to succeed in Maritime 2050 lofty but educated and realistic objectives.

The UK government also took advice and input from a very experienced panel of industry experts.

In concluding, I consider that the Maritime 2050 strategy document is a major and positive step forward for the UK government and the maritime sector within the UK but does not underestimate the competition or the need to constantly adopt and innovate.

Maritime 2050 should also be viewed in conjunction with other wider initiatives being developed by the UK government such as the GREAT Campaign focusing on the strengths and advantages of doing business both within the UK and Internationally with UK companies, particularly flagging legal, maritime, export and other aspects of the UK economy and business environment.

This article was first published by Maritime Risk International (Volume 33, Issue 6)