Slowly but surely, the shipping industry is fulfilling its lobbying potential

SMarT Plus shows that we can change Government policy, but now we must have the ambition to become one of the UK's most influential industries, writes Jonathan Roberts


It is not that long ago that the shipping industry had no national profile whatsoever.  I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been told that journalists, politicians and the public didn’t care what the shipping industry had to say.

It was never true.  According to an opinion poll we published last year, 89% of MPs and 83% if the general public understood that shipping was the prime mover of the UK’s international trade.  In all my dealings with parliamentarians and national journalists, it has been abundantly clear they were crying out for a vocal, high-profile and influential shipping industry, and they were all more than willing to help facilitate it so long as our message was right.  It does, after all, serve their interests that leading business voices provide strong, robust and ambitious arguments; are willing to fight their corner, push their agenda and are prepared to speak out.  

One of shipping’s greatest strengths is its history.  We all take great pride in being part of our country’s long maritime tradition.  But if we are not careful, the attitudes of the past can keep us stuck in it.

That is why it is so important that the UK Chamber of Shipping positions itself as a leading voice on macro-political and macro-economic issues, both because it is the right thing to do but also because it allows us to take part in the national debate that affects our own bottom line.

From a very low base just a few years ago, the UK Chamber is now one of the most high-profile trade associations in the country.  In 2017 we were in the national media on 230 occasions – that is a 1700% increase from the 2013 baseline.  Similarly we are the leading maritime trade body in the world on social media, beating many comparable groups in other industries.  Our website is increasingly becoming a home for news, opinion and debate.  A video created for the Careers At Sea campaign for London International Shipping Week was viewed 30,000 times within three days of its launch – not by shipping professionals, but by young people across the country.

While this proves the inherent appeal of the industry, it also provides us with the political clout necessary for us to influence and shape the government’s agenda.  Nowhere is that more evident than in our campaign for a revitalised Support for Maritime Training Scheme.  SMarT Plus, as we call it, will see a doubling in government support for seafarer training to £30 million a year. In return, many leading shipowners will increase the number of seafarers they train and guarantee them their first job.

Our campaign could be seen as an example of best practice.  It started with recognising that Government and industry needed to do more to attract the next generation of seafarers. Once the notion of SMarT Plus was conceived, our policy team developed the idea into a fully fledged business case, which was then communicated both directly to government, but also through the national media, political parties, MPs, think tanks and social partners.

As a result, SMarT Plus moved from being an idea to a reality, and now thousands of new opportunities will be created for young people from all walks of life.  

In many ways this was a profound moment for the industry.  It shows beyond all doubt that shipping can become not only high profile, but that it can use that profile to generate influence, making  the UK a better place for its members to do business.  Our challenge now is to find the next big new idea, the next Tonnage Tax or the next SMarT Plus that will transform the sector.  

Look also at the direction Maritime UK – the coalition of maritime trade bodies – is taking, uniting the wider industry behind a common agenda, building regional clusters and striking sector deals as part of the Government’s industrial strategy.  But furthermore, it is reaching out into the world, ambitiously promoting the UK as a place to do business, taking delegations to growing economies and organising trade missions at home.  

There is a momentum behind the industry now.  It is not one that has been provided to us, but one we have created through our own ambition and determination.  That energy is finally allowing us to cast of the inward-looking shackles of the past and look forward to the future we are creating.

This article was written for and published in the UK Chamber's 2018 Journal. Members can download a copy here, or you can email us to request a PDF copy.

For more information contact:

Jonathan Roberts

Communications Director

020 7417 2833 / 07810 304006