Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 301 - 319)




  301. Good afternoon, Minister. As always, we are honoured with your appearance. May I ask you, even in that circumstance, to identify yourself for the record?
  (Mr Jamieson) Thank you very much, Mrs Dunwoody. I am David Jamieson, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Department for Transport.

  302. And you have brought with you?
  (Mr Reeves) Stephen Reeves, Head of Ports Division in the Department.
  (Mr Burr) Andrew Burr. I work with Steve in the Ports Division.

  303. Minister, do you have something to tell us?
  (Mr Jamieson) If I may, Mrs Dunwoody, I would like to make a few brief opening remarks which I hope will help the Committee. First, can I say that we, as always, welcome the Committee's interest in Government policy for the ports industry, which aims to foster its continuing success in a sustainable way.

  304. We are secure in that knowledge, Minister.

  305. We published Modern Ports at the end of 2000 because we felt that the industry's role in transport policy had been somewhat neglected. There had not been a comprehensive assessment of ports policy for a long time. It may assist your Committee, Mrs Dunwoody, if I just briefly highlight our broad policy aims and set them in context for you. The Committee will be aware that the competitiveness of the United Kingdom economy depends on quick, easy, economical and safe movement of people and goods. We, the shipping lines' ultimate customers, have come to treat the whole world as our market place. The shipping industry succeeds in meeting our demands quickly and cheaply and competition between lines is fierce. They depend on a modern ports industry doing its bit to keep this complex supply chain in good working order, so ports serve a national interest, supporting our needs as consumers and the competitiveness of our national and regional economies. We need a thriving ports industry. Our ports must remain able to handle current UK trade and its potential development efficiently and sustainably. As we say in Modern Ports, they must not only meet the immediate demands of their customers but also invest in new facilities, in safety and to safeguard communities in the environment. The Government does not fund the ports industry but we are of course involved in the land side connections to the road and rail network and the multi-modal studies have an important role here, as does the Strategic Rail Authority's freight strategy about which the Committee has just been hearing a few moments ago. The government is an important regulator of the ports industry besides planning control. There are also standards to regulate health and safety and to avoid accidents in potentially dangerous jobs. We have worked with the industry to promote new safety standards and a systematic approach to risk management. We are also working with the industry on training standards and I welcome this very positive approach. We have done this standard setting work without compromising the industry's responsibility for the safety of operations. In conclusion, we look to the ports industry to be efficient, and they are entitled to look to the government to be an efficient regulator. Regulation tends to grow piecemeal until it becomes a burden and that is one of the problems we notice. I know that the Committee is especially keen to look at new issues that have arisen since the predecessor committee held hearings earlier last year and the biggest of these is the market access to port services directive on which a common position was reached at the Transport Council last month, after intensive discussions under the Spanish presidency. We played a very full part in these and I will be very happy to give any further detail if that would be helpful to the Committee. We, as always, look forward to your questions and ultimately to your report on this very important matter.

  306. That is all absolutely excellent. As always, a most coherent, intelligent and encouraging report. Which of the objectives is most important, the long term objective of Modern Ports as a planning strategy, a framework, or the short term objective of dealing with the narrower aspects, such as the ones you have just been outlining like safety?
  (Mr Jamieson) I think they are both important. We as a government need to have a long term view which is set out in Modern Ports, but there are some very short term issues such as safety, and there are issues that can be dealt with in the here and now. We have public inquiries going on, for example, at the moment and those will be for the short to long term. We have to look at both issues with due regard.

  307. You have made it very clear that the industry is not funded by the government so how are you going to achieve your objectives?
  (Mr Jamieson) We do not fund the ports. In some of the other European countries, they run their ports very differently to ours. We are satisfied that the market place has generally worked extremely well in supplying the ports facilities in this country. We see our role as to respond to the framework of regulation, to ensure that safety is in place and to ensure that the environmental aspects are put right. We see ourselves as an overall regulator and we see the market having to respond to providing the provision in our ports.

  308. The difficulty is that you have said there are constraints about a market led development which might not take account of the wider public policy factors and we have already heard this afternoon that the industry seems to be assuming that the Strategic Rail Authority will always put the money into the infrastructure improvements. What is the attitude of the government going to be? Are they going to ask that the industry funds infrastructure, not only inside its own port developments but immediately outside in dealing with constraints on traffic; or are you assuming that you will not be able to hit your objectives in terms of modal shift?
  (Mr Jamieson) In terms of the actual structure of the ports, it would be our view that we would not be funding those. Successive governments have made that clear over the years, but there is an interface between the development of the ports and improvements that may take place or extra transport that may be needed. That will be a matter for negotiation between the ports and the SRA. It may be that the port sees some advantage in providing some of that funding but in the end that will be a matter for negotiation between the two. There will be other areas as well. The Highways Agency plays a very important role in this in making sure that the road links are there. In some cases, there may be a role for the local highways authority for local roads which may be important in moving goods out of a port area. We see also the freight facilities grants may be assisting, for example, some sort of improvements to the rail marshalling yards or improving the work on a line that may help the freight to and from the port.

  309. Who sets the priorities for these changes? Where are they recorded and how can they be looked at in conjunction with, for example, the regional planning authorities?
  (Mr Jamieson) The ports themselves will develop on a market basis.

  310. If for one reason or another they decide no, they do not want to invest in the infrastructure, nothing will happen?
  (Mr Jamieson) What has happened up to now is that the market has provided the services in the ports and they have grown on the basis of a market division being there. If there is a gap in the market, as we have seen recently with the four applications that have been made, the gap is attempting to be filled by the applications that have been made to improvements in ports.

  311. The industry is making it very clear that the constraints upon its development now lie in the infrastructure, mainly in roads but also in rail, and in a number of pinch points. They are also making it clear that, whatever you say, they were expecting that investment to come from the government. What is the government's attitude to that?
  (Mr Jamieson) When these inquiries take place, we have a role of oversight of those. We have a final decision on them. The socio-economic aspects of the inquiries and the environmental aspects we have to consider. If those go through the inquiry stage and they are accepted by the government, then it is incumbent upon the ports to work with the SRA and with the Highways Agency and those responsible for the multi-modal studies to look at the infrastructure issues that are important to them.

  312. Who takes responsibility for implementing multi-modal structures and the changes that will actually impinge directly on things like capacity?
  (Mr Jamieson) That will be a matter for the regional planning bodies to make their recommendations.

  313. They will be funded by central government?
  (Mr Jamieson) In some cases, that may be the case, yes.

Mrs Ellman

  314. You said that the government has a role in relation to environment and safety in relation to ports. Does the government have a role in developing ports for regional economic regeneration?
  (Mr Jamieson) No, I do not think we do. A regional development agency may be working with whoever is operating the port with a view to investment in that area, but these matters have been very much devolved now to regions and we think it is very important that those decisions are made at a regional level and that that discussion goes on at a regional level.

  315. What about government support for improved infrastructure investment to support the regional economic regeneration related to ports and trade?
  (Mr Jamieson) We would not see any direct government funding going into the port itself. However, there may be a case for various assistance. As I mentioned, the freight facilities grants may be available. Regional selective assistance may be available for other matters outside of the port that may enhance economic development in that area.

  316. Does that mean that the government would be supportive to the Strategic Rail Authority or other investors in developing trade between Ireland, the port of Liverpool, through to northern Europe?
  (Mr Jamieson) I detect there might be something behind this question. That would be a matter for the regional development agency working in the overall structure of government guidance of these particular matters. You mentioned Liverpool. The objective one programme has provided certain road infrastructure projects that have assisted the economic development in that area and some of those may benefit movement of freight from the ports.

  317. Do you give any guidance to the Strategic Rail Authority on its infrastructure investment policy, aimed at assisting port development?
  (Mr Jamieson) Not directly. They have an overall responsibility in their freight plans. We have in the 10 year plan our objective to increase the amount of freight on the railways but any instruction would be contained within the Strategic Rail Authority's future plans.

  318. Is it an area that you would have concern about as a Minister? Is it something you would make inquiries about and want to satisfy yourself on?
  (Mr Jamieson) I would have concern if any of the organisations were not working together, were not assisting each other in the overall aims that we have. That would be fairly obvious. If we felt the process was not working and they were not responding to each other, I think yes, we would have concerns.

  319. What is the current status of the EU Directive on port services?
  (Mr Jamieson) I thought this would be an important issue for you. It is an area that has grown rapidly in the last few weeks. Firstly, we support the liberalisation of ports. We had serious reservations about the Directive when it first came out. We thought it would be disruptive for our ports; it would have an adverse effect on investment. We strongly believe that there should be competition between one port and another because we feel that that is what creates competitiveness and that is what drives down the costs. What we did appreciate is that our ports are at a different stage of development and growth to many of the ports in other parts of the European Union. They tend to operate much more on a landlord/tenant model; whereas ours tend to be vertically integrated. We did have very considerable concerns about the Directive as it stood. We have listened to all sides in the industry. The trade unions have made some very strong views; so have the port operators and many others have made views to us. I am very pleased to say that we have, by negotiation, effected a very large number of changes to that Directive which we think will be beneficial to our ports industry.

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