Opportunity Knocks

Maritime UK believes the industry should be hugely optimistic despite growing competition globally - but collaboration is key to success.

Ben Murray, Director of Maritime UK 

"In the long history of humankind those who learned to collaborate most effectively have prevailed”, said Darwin. Darwinian Theory is just as relevant to industry as individuals.

The UK’s maritime sector is facing growing competition from maritime centres across the globe, whether it’s the Far East, Northern Europe, North America or The Gulf. To protect and – crucially – advance our position, collaboration is vital. Collaboration within industry and between industry and government. It also faces challenges at home – around skills, on the environment and in productivity. But we are also staring at massive opportunity.

The Foresight Future of the Sea report, published by the Government, has estimated that the value of the global ‘ocean’ or ‘blue’ economy doubling to $3trn by 2030. That significant prize presents huge opportunity. But we are not the only maritime nation eyeing the prize. That same report identified the need for greater collaboration between businesses, and with academia, as being necessary for the UK is to capitalise.

Increasing collaboration requires a culture change within an industry that, in many ways, is seen as conservative, cautious and even dubious about collaborating with others - particularly competitors. But even small steps breed trust between partners and the confidence in the mode of working, to do it again and again.

There are reasons to be hugely optimistic about where we are now, but also specific areas where we need to see a step-change.

Collaboration among Maritime UK’S members is greater than ever, and that recurring practice of working together is leading to closer working still. Partners recognise other areas in which collaboration is worthwhile, too. Through Maritime UK’s Policy Working Group – Chaired by the Chamber’s David Balston - members discuss key mutual policy issues and develop joint positions. We respond more robustly and coherently to Government strategies and calls for evidence, and this is translated into greater media exposure and political contact.

 The Maritime Ministerial Working Group is well-established, with the support of Secretary of State for Transport, offering a convening point for all ministers whose departments impact our sector.  Without this body, we would have failed to drive the many cross-cutting issues which are typical in our sector, not least on Brexit. Here we see that Government mirrors our better coordination to the benefit of industry; In many ways it is said, ‘if you get your house in order, we’ll get ours in order to’.

A few years ago, we were challenged for being a ‘talking shop,’ today, we’re doing. Together, we’ve delivered four international projects to promote the UK’s maritime sector – with visits to Shanghai (QM2), New York (HMS Queen Elizabeth) and Chile and inward visits from the Netherlands. Now, at these exchanges, the breadth and full strength of the sector’s offer is showcased. Projects are delivered with partners from all five of the sector’s industries, along with our increasingly effective regional clusters – led by Merseyside and the Solent.

We have structured and collaborative careers promotion, with activity organised at key cities and coastal towns across the country. A key element of this has asked why partners all visit the same event with small stands when we can have one large, comprehensive presence? Here, collaboration cuts costs and allows career seekers to engage with the sector as a whole; one that offers a huge breadth of opportunity.

We are also collaborating on specific projects with the Government, with different parts of the sector working together for the first time on a joint five-year plan for maritime exports and investment. 

Meanwhile, companies from across the sector are collaborating to improve gender diversity through the Women in Maritime programme. In one project, firms with diversity-trained HR teams making their staff available to those companies that do not yet have that expertise. At the start of the process, some companies were concerned about sharing with others, but trust has bred confidence, and participants are committed to moving forward in step.

The Princess Royal, Maritime UK’s Patron, awarded the inaugural ‘Maritime Master’ prize to Hazel Bryan (Queen Mary, UoL) for her research on Blockchain in November 2018. This programme is bringing industry and academia closer together, with research topics cutting across the traditional ‘silos’ that many lamented were operating within the sector.

One area in which collaboration needs to become better is innovation. We often moan that maritime does not get the share of innovation funding it deserves, but the truth is that those sectors – such as automotive and rail – have a greater tradition of working together on innovation. The Government has made sizable investments for both sectors through the Industrial Strategy. Why? Because the industry ‘offer’ – that is, what we are prepared to do to counter the ‘ask’ we make of Government - was compelling. Put simply, both had serious skin in the game. Rather than asking for money, they present a strong union of companies and academic institutes with an equally strong financial or resource contribution. Traditionally, we’ve not seen that same culture and form in the maritime sector.

That has started to change. A foundation group comprising Babcock, BAE, BMT, Cammell Laird, Lloyd’s Register, Rolls Royce, QinetiQ, Shell, Newcastle University, the university of Southampton, and Strathclyde and University College London have created Maritime Research and Innovation UK, to serve as the UK’s national collaborative innovation vehicle. These partners have identified key joint challenges including autonomy and decarbonisation. For the initiative to succeed, more companies need to join, and be prepared to co-invest; only then will Government view the maritime sector as a credible proposition alongside other sectors. MarRi-UK will only be successful if the breadth of the sector gets involved, and the Chamber’s members help shape the research and innovation agenda.

The Chamber’s former President David Dingle completed three years as Chair of Maritime UK at the end of 2018. In a blog reflecting on his time in the chair, he said: “I urge everyone to continually question whether better results can be delivered through even better collaboration. Today, industry is collaborating like never, but collaboration should be the norm, not the exception. For our sector and country to succeed in the future, working together is critical.”

The Maritime UK team looks forward to working with the Chamber and its members to make it happen.