Portsmouth is the UK’s most successful municipal port, considered to be a major port by the DfT, the best connected with a direct link to the motorway, and serves the most cross-channel routes.
That’s why it is vital trade continues to operate as seamlessly as possible post-Brexit. It is essential for council services, because the port contributes a significant amount to the council budget - £7.8m last year, and is critical for businesses who rely on goods reaching their destination on time.
The main concerns stem from uncertainty, diverting much needed cash from council services, the implications of changes to customs arrangements, and possible consequences from delays at European ports.
This is why we’ve been sensibly planning for a no deal scenario, so we can play our part and make sure trade flows without hold ups. We look after two million passengers travelling to France, Spain and the Channel Islands, and over 250,000 freight movements a year, managing ferries' turnaround within an hour and a half.
To help look at future arrangements we have been involved in a range of planning groups from border delivery and port health at a governmental level and our Local Resilience Forum (LRF), to meeting with our European neighbours to understand the pressures they are potentially facing.
Quite rightly, there has been attention on strategies for handling potential traffic issues in Dover, and we are discussing similar contingency plans through our region’s LRF to make sure we’re in the best possible position to handle changes after Friday 29 March.
Brexit has definitely put the spotlight on the importance of ports for UK trade and if anything there is a realisation about the vital service ports provide. There has been a growing appreciation that supermarket shelves, building supplies, manufacturing plants all rely on the sea to deliver up to 95% of goods.
It has been important for us that ministers understand the roll-on roll-off model, (RoRo), which is operated in ports like Portsmouth. Unlike other shipping methods, RoRo is the best option for transporting goods that can’t afford to hang around.
Any impact that could cause a delay has serious implications for the wider supply chain. Often overlooked is the Channel Islands’ reliance on just-in-time imports, which sees 90% of all goods needed for the islands leaving through Portsmouth. Supermarkets depend on reliable services so they can keep their shops stocked with supplies, so a 24-48 hour delay can mean empty shelves.
We’re fortunate the council owns our sister site, MMD Shipping Services, which currently handles non-EU goods. This means we already have the experts and facilities available such as a customs agency and DEFRA approvals to accommodate diverted freight, or handle additional paperwork requirements.
We want to make sure this essential just-in-time service, which only RoRo ports can provide, remains uninterrupted and goods continue to flow seamlessly. Maintaining a successful, commercial port is vital for our council services, critical for businesses, and also the wider public who probably don’t realise quite how much they rely on ports.
Brexit brings risks and opportunities but the closer the UK gets to March without a deal, the less chance RoRo ports have to put preparations in place.
Whatever happens we will need a period of time for the UK and our European neighbours to put systems and infrastructure in place to manage freight carrying critical items such as fresh food and medical supplies quickly at both ends of the supply chain. It would be wrong for a municipal port to spend tax-payers’ money on changes too soon when they may not be required.
Mike Sellers is port director of Portsmouth International Port
This story first appeared on our sister site The MJ.