UK President Helen Deeble speaks to the Scottish Shipping Benevolent Association


Helen Deeble, the President of the UK Chamber of Shipping, addressed the Scottish Shipping Benevolent Association Annual Dinner in Glasgow last week.

The Association exists to provide support for those within the industry who have suffered hardship, and especially the widows and families of deceased seafarers. The annual fundraising event was attended by around 500 guests from across the Scottish industry, and the President continued the long standing tradition of UK Chamber Presidents speaking at the event.

Her speech, which was very well received, focused on the strengths of the maritime ‘family’, and the role of the Association within it.

She also criticised the trend for Ministerial reshuffles being used for political – not policy - ends, and called on Governments of all parties to commit to stability through their term in office, to avoid the continued disruption to political relationships faced by the UK Chamber and other representative organisations.

Mrs Deeble also renewed calls for Government to launch a cross-departmental maritime strategy – something Maritime UK has been negotiating through its ongoing dialogue with Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin MP..


Mr President, [Deacon Convenor], friends and colleagues – a very good evening to you all.

It is with great pleasure that I carry on the long tradition of Chamber Presidents speaking at this wonderful event. The main theme of my remarks this evening is how we are ‘stronger together’.

But just in case Mr Salmond thinks the English are invading his territory again, I am talking about the industry, not the future of the Union! I wouldn’t touch that subject with a bargepole tonight!

For those of us engaged with the daily life of maritime business – the spreadsheets, the numbers, the competition – tonight comes as a welcome opportunity to recall that which unites us. Our values. Our people. Our community.

The Association reminds us of the collective responsibility we all share to our maritime family. It reminds us of the sacrifices made by our seafarers – those who spend many months away from home, those who volunteer to work on board ships in dangerous African waters, and those who, for whatever reason, may find themselves in difficulty. It reminds us that whilst the sea provides us with countless opportunities, it can provide us with real dangers too.

What makes us a great maritime nation is not just our rich history, the size of our fleet, or the depth of our expertise. It is how our community responds when those amongst us find themselves in need. That is why the Association will always be a vital part of the maritime family.

So, on evenings such as this, the question must always be: how can we help? Well, the UK Chamber of Shipping plays its role. We are, at heart, a campaigning organisation that understands the value of collectivity. 

We know that by working with the Royal Navy, we can help protect ships from pirates. By working with Trade Unions, we can support our seafarers. By working with Government, we can provide growth and create jobs.

As an industry, in good times and in bad, we are always better together.

Nowhere knows that better, of course, than Scotland - the home of the new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers. Shipbuilders from across the United Kingdom, working together to build a world-class vessel being assembled in Rosyth.

The newly enhanced City of Glasgow College, working together with ship-operators to provide young people with the skills they need for a fulfilling, exciting career.
And of course, even as Chief Executive of P&O Ferries, I know that a prime example of Scotland’s determination to invest in its maritime future is the Stena ferry port at Loch Ryan. The scale of the investment, the sleek new ships, the quality of the terminal – they all tell us one thing. Scotland is open for business.

And so it should be. Because Scotland understands the sea. Scotland ‘gets it’. Scotland knows that when you are emotionally connected to the sea, you can make it work for you – passing knowledge on through the generations and exploring new opportunities.

And the opportunities are out there. But what we need is a Government that is on our side.

In Whitehall, we have a Government that is committed to a stable business climate and retaining tonnage tax, that ringfenced funding for seafarer training, and moved to end the subsidy of Irish lights.

These are all welcome. But what we value most in shipping is certainty. In the last 6 years, we have had no fewer than 8 Secretaries of State for Transport. Indeed, in the most recent reshuffle, not only did we lose a shipping minister, we lost 9 out of 10 of our closest Ministerial contacts. No business could be effective with such a high turnover of Chief Executives. So it stands to reason that no Government can be effective when its ministers are constantly being moved on. 

Reshuffles, which have little purpose beyond political expediency, only serve to slow down the rate of progress. Every day a new Minister spends trying to understand the basics of their brief, is a day they are not concentrating on developing the sound policy necessary for economic growth. It is time for governments of all colours to stop using the Department for Transport as a staging post for Ministerial careers, and commit to a period of stability that will allow government and industry to deliver for Britain.

And there is real reason for optimism if that stability is provided. We all know that shipping moves 95% of the UK’s international trade. Together, shipping, ports and maritime business support 531,000 jobs, contribute 26.5 billion pounds to GDP and provide 8 billion pounds to the Exchequer. Indeed, our productivity is almost 30% higher than the national average. So at a time of no growth in the wider economy, high unemployment and a widening trade gap, it is vital for Government to recognise that we stand ready to help.

What we need is leadership. What we need is a growth strategy, developed through unprecedented coordination between Government and industry.
And it should be with Government as a whole, not just a single department.

For too long Government has allowed itself to think of maritime solely as a transport issue. It is not. On a daily basis we work with the Treasury, the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence, Department for Climate Change, often the Home Office and the Department for Business, and others.

The time has come for a ministerial-level, cross departmental maritime strategy for Government.

Whilst we are rightly proud of our strong maritime history, we have to believe that our best days lie ahead of us. But growth won’t come unless we take bold action. This is the challenge that the Chamber, and the Maritime UK coalition, has set itself. And this is where Government must help too.

With emerging competition from Singapore and China, and heavily subsidised continental ports able to offer greater access to European markets, we must ask what it is we can do to encourage investment, how we can strengthen the British register, how we can create new jobs – and what kind of jobs they will be.

We must ask too, how we can take seafarer training into the apprenticeship model, how we can improve our carbon footprint, and how we can prevent an expansion of piracy off the coast of Nigeria.

Indeed, with new regulations on sulphur emissions coming into force from 2015, every ship operating off the east coast of Scotland could see fuel costs rising by as much as 87 per cent. How can we stop this from harming our industry’s ability to grow?

These are difficult questions. But we will only find answers by Government and industry working together. 

I do recognise in conclusion, however, that this evening some of you may also find answers at the bottom of your wine bottles. Although I’d hazard a guess that, in doing so, you might find answers to different questions than the ones I’ve posed tonight.

Regardless: Thank you once again for inviting me to what I know is always a splendid evening. And I look forward to working with you all as we fight to maintain our standing as a truly great maritime nation.