Freight News, Sea

Covid – it’s even worse than Brexit, say ports

[ May 18, 2020   //   ]

UK Ports now face greater uncertainty due to covid-19 than they did Brexit, according to a new survey published by the British Ports Association (BPA) on 18 May.

It said that only 36% of UK ports feel confident about their business outlook over the next 12 months and 86% reported either substantial or severe impacts on shipping and customer activities.

It also showed that while most ports have not taken advantage of Government support measures, over half (55%) are not satisfied with the mechanisms and funding available.

BPA policy and economic analyst, Phoebe Warneford-Thomson, said: “The results also show that 44% of ports have seen difficulties obtaining PPE and that support for furlough has been the most popular Government support measure, so we were glad to see the Chancellor’s recent Job Retention scheme extension announcement.

“Even in a time of crisis, ports must ensure all services are maintained, such as cargo facilities, security arrangements and safety systems, often with a full staff. However, ports are not only seeing a substantial impact on their customer activity and obstacles to commercial operations but facing requests for assistance from port users too. Ports have quite literally helped keep the country supplied during the pandemic.”

BPA will be publishing a set of sector-specific proposals in an Economic Recovery Plan for government shortly, to highlight our proposals for how ports can assist Britain in its recovery from potentially the deepest recession since records began.

Ports also faced major operational challenges, Warneford-Thomson continued, with 65% reporting a reduction in landside operational staff, 49% report a reduction in marine operational staff, 24% in management staff, 29% faced issues sourcing mechanical components, 44% with sourcing PPE and 5% had problems with storage space for cargo, while 89% of ports had seen a minor to substantial impact, due to illness, self-isolation or furlough.

The vast majority of port users and tenants have also asked for assistance from ports; including rent holidays, extended payment terms and a reduction in harbour dues, often for all three.

Some 43% of ports said the Brexit transition period should be extended, 32% no and26% did not know.

Of ports who originally had construction projects planned during this time, 64% say they are paused for the time being, 15% say they are progressing at a slower pace, 13% say there has been no impact and 8% say that they have been cancelled completely.

Some 69% of ports said they do not require financial assistance, while 31% did, although many added that if the current situation continues for much longer, then they will do. Similarly, 32% of respondents say they are concerned about borrowings and banking covenants, 68% say they are not.