Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380 - 399)

WEDNESDAY 21 MARCH 2001

MR COLIN CARR, MR PETER LANDLES AND MR ROGER SEALEY

  380. Can I draw your attention to a paragraph out of the evidence that you submitted when you say that the privatisation of the port has not lived up to expectations. It questions whether privatisation has in fact (as is claimed) led to improved performance, arguing that "privatisation has worked against the current Government's stated objectives, particularly in terms of `making best use of existing port infrastructure'". That is page 38 of your submission.
  (Mr Sealey) I think the classic example is Associated British Ports, the first port which was privatised. If you look at their performance in growth of tonnage going through their ports compared with the growth of tonnage going through all the United Kingdom ports, the growth rate of Associated British Ports is less than the growth rate going through all the ports of the United Kingdom. There are a number of instances in other ports which have been privatised where the performance of tonnage going through port has not equalled that of the industry as a whole.

  381. You allege that they are not making best use of existing port infrastructure. Give us an example about Liverpool.
  (Mr Sealey) There are a lot of cases where you have had infrastructure put in, partly because of competition to attract shippers into a port, and if the shippers moved on to another port then that infrastructure can be standing there and doing nothing because the person it was designed to service has gone elsewhere.

  382. Let me put another question to you. Which are the most successful ports across the world and which are publicly-owned and which are in private hands? Can you give us some idea on that.
  (Mr Carr) Within this country the success of the publicly-owned ports, they are commonly known as "slush" ports although outside of the "slush" ports area are the municipally-owned ports—

Chairman

  383. We need some names.
  (Mr Carr) Poole, off the top of my head, and the Port of London Authority, where we would say that the public side gives the harbour master a public responsibility, a public duty to ensure that the port and environs of the port are safe not just for the transport of cargo and shipping traffic and everything else, but for the public in general. We find that there is still a lot of competition amongst the publicly-owned ports but we do feel that the publicly-owned ports are certainly safer environments to work in from our perspective in terms of worker representatives and we feel that they are successful in looking after the environs and public concern. With regards to European ports (and throughout the world) many of which are publicly-owned, I think perhaps my colleague Peter will answer that.
  (Mr Landles) I work in the Port of Felixstowe which has always been private. It is probably one of the most successful ports in volume throughput, handling 2.9 million containers last year. Our biggest threat in the port industry at this present time is a draft piece of legislation which Mrs de Palacio, the Commissioner in Europe, produced on 13th February which is advertising basically that the ports in Great Britain and Europe will have total and utter open access. The problem that we face in Great Britain in the port industry is we have approximately 293 ports up and down each side of country and at the bottom. Predominantly on the Continent, ie Rotterdam in Holland, there are one or two major ports, where the state has funded all the infrastructure, unlike in England with the municipal port or private port there is virtually nil. So the problem that is facing the British port industry at the present time is what effects this new piece of legislation, which many people do not know about as yet, will have on British infrastructure and private investment (because there will not be any Government investment) and the problems facing us, unlike in Europe where the state fund the infrastructure of ports.

Mr O'Brien

  384. Your evidence states, "... privatisation has worked against the current Government's stated objectives, particularly in terms of `making better use of existing port infrastructure'". That is not correct, is it, in your case?
  (Mr Landles) There were a number of ports which were pre-privatisation and pre-abolition of the Dock Labour Scheme. If you understand what is happening in the pre-Dock Labour Scheme ports many dock workers were either sacked, made redundant, and they brought in the use of casual workers, agency workers and stevedore companies, and in many of those private ports today it is predominantly private stevedore companies. In my opinion, the standard of health and safety and training leaves much to be desired.

  385. But not at your port?
  (Mr Landles) Our port is highly professional, containerised—

Chairman

  386. You have not said, Mr Landles, something I wondered about. Is it true that Felixstowe did not have a lot of investment before it was sold off and it needed considerable amounts of money put in and it now has considerably better infrastructure? Is that right.
  (Mr Landles) No, Chairman. I have worked for the port for the last 29 years and there has been investment through the four companies that have owned us, some more than others, some less than others.

  387. So you are not saying that privatisation (or a particular sale in the case of Felixstowe) produced an enormous amount of investment from private industry?
  (Mr Landles) No.

  Chairman: I want to move on now. Mr Stevenson?

Mr Stevenson

  388. The UK Major Ports Group and NUMAST have given evidence to us that indicates that they are convinced that ports on the Continent are receiving state aid. When challenged to bring forward evidence to back up these assertions as yet none has been forthcoming. First, would you agree with the assertion of the Major Ports Group and NUMAST about state aid to European ports and, if you do, have you done research on this and can you produce evidence to back up those assertions?
  (Mr Carr) We give that assurance, Mr Stevenson. We would be more than happy to submit written submissions. We did not bring anything along today on that. We assumed, wrongly it would appear, that you had it already. It is our perception from our links with sister unions and other European groups to which we are all affiliated that there are subsidies available to major European ports.
  (Mr Landles) I can give you three classic areas of development which have been built in the last ten years. The European Delta terminal in Rotterdam was state-funded—we will produce the facts for you—there is the Port of Zeebrugge which was built by the Belgians and cost 64 million or billion Belgian francs, and presently there is a major port being built on the northern European side of Germany, probably for commercial reasons because a lot of work made in Germany goes out of Rotterdam and Hamburg. Those three were certainly state-funded.

Chairman

  389. Where is that exactly?
  (Mr Landles) It is not present yet.

  Chairman: You will give us a note on that, Mr Landles.

Mr Stevenson

  390. The other thing that seems to be emerging from the evidence is that it is extremely difficult to collate statistics. We are really trying to determine just how efficient our ports are in comparison with each other and in comparison with their international competitors, not only in terms of efficiency but in capacity. Have we got over-capacity? Are we under-utilised? What is the situation? How many people are effectively employed in our ports? What sort of investment is going into our ports? It is emerging, as far as I am concerned, as an area of great difficulty in getting information that would address those questions. (a) would you agree with that and (b) if so, have you got any evidence that you would like to put to the Committee in those areas?
  (Mr Carr) On the point of a) yes, we agree with it wholeheartedly and in fact are quite critical of the statistics that are available to all of us. Equally, we view, as I am sure you do, as important the existence of statistics in order to plan for the future and to make the kind of decisions that this Select Committee is here to make. On b) I would like to bring in my colleague, Roger Sealey.
  (Mr Sealey) The lack of statistics is an historic problem within the port industry. It has been an on-going problem. Certainly the research I have done in the early 1970s was indicating there were real problems with the amount of information available compared to other industries. For example, in the bus and coach industry the amount of data there is far more than within our industry. Even at the most basic level on what levels of employment are within the ports is incredibly difficult to get hold of. The latest information we have came from British Ports Industry Training. They have done a survey recently which had a 34 per cent response rate, but that was done by a training organisation. There are no Government figures. Even the Labour Force Survey cannot pick up how many people are employed.

  391. This seems to be a significant gap that needs to be addressed. Has Government not got a responsibility here?
  (Mr Carr) The problem with the Government responsibility—and we are not critical of them at the HSE on the accident figures—is that they have a standard industry categorisation system which fails to pinpoint. In the port industry, if we wanted to look at figures on cargo handling, that would be lumped in with the marine and fishing industries and things like that. As my colleague has said, we have to rely therefore on the likes of the Training Board figures and indeed the PSO figures. But the PSO—

Chairman

  392. PSO?
  (Mr Carr) Ports' Safety Organisation, I do apologise. Those figures are only a sample of their membership; they have employer members.

Mr Stevenson

  393. Finally, are you saying for the record that in terms of efficiency, capacity, employment, investment in our ports, there is little or no information available through whatever source, be it government or whatever, that would allow a reasonable assessment of those critical areas in comparison with European ports, for example? Is that what you are saying?
  (Mr Carr) Yes, there is a lack of reliable figures.
  (Mr Landles) The problem that we have is that since privatisation there is now just a small number of big companies who own a number of ports—Associated British Ports, Forth Ports Authority, Hutchison (?) Ports, of which we are a member. The only time anybody will know we are investing is when we approach to extend or build a terminal and you will have objections from every society in the world objecting to the development. I know for a fact we are in discussions for a possible half a billion pound investment in the Port of Felixstowe and Harwich. There is also a major development being proposed at Dibden Bay at Southampton. However, we only found out where the possible investments are taking place through our contacts within the trade union movement and through our fellow colleagues. Like I said earlier on, I think a lot of investment by the British ports will be under consideration and put on hold until they see the effects of this new legislation from Europe.

Mr Donohoe

  394. Do you monitor your membership levels within the docks sector?
  (Mr Carr) Yes.

  395. Is it increasing or is it decreasing?
  (Mr Carr) There was a slight increase in the last quarter. I think if you are taking about the long term in the docks industry it is very much decreasing.

  396. Has casualisation been the reason for that?
  (Mr Carr) Yes.

  397. What do you do about casualisation?
  (Mr Carr) We seek to organise within the dock systems. My colleague, Mr Landles, has already told you that there are 295 ports around the United Kingdom. At a guess I would say we possibly organise in no more than 50, maybe 60, of those ports. The difficulties we have in organising in the other ports that we do not organise in are caused by the casualisation aspect of it. It is very difficult to enter a port. We would readily agree with that on safety grounds but we fail to gain access to people and we very seldom see people coming to the unions for help because casualisation, as we are well aware, does breed an aura of fear and victimisation and they tend fear that if they are seen to be going to be union there will be grave consequences.

  398. Is there monitoring of accidents within ports to which you would have access in terms of health and safety?
  (Mr Carr) Prior to today's meeting we thought we would attempt to have a snapshot view of that. The information we have is not on accident statistics but on claims that our members have made, which I think gives an indication of the most serious accidents. Clearly our members—

  399. Would it help you if there was the right in statute that every port within the land had to produce figures of the accidents that there are in these ports in order that you could look at these figures? I am clearly of the opinion that with casualisation of labour that what you breed is an untrained, unskilled workforce and in these circumstances you are bound to have—it almost follows like night follows day—an increasing level of accidents.
  (Mr Carr) Yes. I understand there is a legal requirement through the Reporting of Incidents and Dangerous Occurrence Regulations to report those. But the problem I think I indicated before, Mr Donohoe, is the standard index, the industry classification. The HSE do provide accident statistics and their figures are public knowledge but we find that they are not narrow enough to give us an indication of the true figure.


 
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