Drop regulation, increase training

South East boat industry chiefs last week quizzed the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, at a meeting following the Government’s regional Cabinet meeting, which was held in Southampton.

Following the meeting the industry is putting together an Action Plan which will be presented to Government.

Chaired by Jim Braithwaite, Chairman of SEEDA, the lunch meeting gave a range of marine companies an opportunity to talk about the state of the marine industry in the current financial climate and discuss an action plan to help companies develop key markets.

The meeting was opened by Marine South East’s Jonathan Williams, who presented an overview of the state of the marine sector in the South East.

The region boasts a diverse marine industry, and whilst sales have dropped in some areas there are also segments of the market showing strong growth. Jonathan talked about the opportunities to increase marine international trade, which could take advantage of favourable exchange rates. This is particularly important for the Solent area where 25% of the economy is marine related, it contributes £5.5bn to the local area and provides 25,000 direct jobs.

He commented: “Government needs to recognise the scale of contribution that marine industries make to the economy and reflect this in its support for growing marine export revenues. We should be looking at relaxing restrictions on existing government support schemes in areas such as international trade and training.. Skills are also key and we are already seeing new projects in apprenticeships and upskilling as a result of more flexible training support offered by the Government. This shows how even more flexibility would help companies protect their business and retain or expand employment levels.

“We would also like to see public investment in research and innovation more focused on marine growth market priorities. Companies will need the technology base to innovate rapidly when the upturn gathers pace.”

Rob Stewart of the South Boats Group was delighted with this fantastic opportunity to bring the needs of the industry and South Boats to the attention of the Chancellor. “The marine industry in the South East is doing well, despite the economic gloom. Given the finance I think the industry could very quickly expand and take up some of the slack in the job market. The South East is becoming a Centre of Excellence for aluminium ship building, but we need continued support to make sure we have the capacity to expand.”

Rob Stevens, Chief Executive of the British Marine Federation also spoke at the meeting. He commented: “We are very pleased with the excellent representation of the marine industry at this meeting and feel it has been very beneficial for highlighting items of interest to our members. We are aware of the difficulties a number of our members are facing at present, and continue to make every effort to support them at Government level. We hope that these conversations help to shape any future marine policy discussions within the Cabinet.”