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The Ports Industry in England and Wales (HC 61-i)

Transport Committee 20 Nov 2006

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Evidence given by Mr Tony Donaghy, President, and Mr Bob Crow, General Secretary, RMT, Mr Simon Bird, Chief Executive, and Mr Niels Westberg, Haven Master, The Bristol Ports Company, Lord Berkeley, a Member of the House of Lords, Chairman, Rail Freight Group, Mr John Dodwell, Managing Director, Rolandon Water and Sea Freight Advisory Services, Mr Mike Gibbons, Executive Member, Dock and Waterways, Mr Roger Sealey, Transport Researcher, and Mr Richard Crease, Coastal, Maritime and Towage, TGWU, and Mr David Robinson, Chief Executive, PD Ports.

Q179 Mr. David Clelland: Mr Westberg, given the fact that, say, the Port of Tyne, which is a trust port, is so remote from the busy south east (which apparently is the only place that has developed ports these days), if the Port of Tyne were to be privatised or bought by private investors are you telling me that would be good for the ports or good for the investors?

Mr Westberg: If I might change my answer to suit another question, I believe it is the market which should dictate which ports will be successful.

Q180 Mr. David Clelland: But is that not a very short term view? If the markets determine, for instance, as they apparently are doing at the moment, that the south east is the place where the ports should be developed, and they become so busy that they cannot handle the traffic and turn it round in time so it has to go elsewhere, but elsewhere has then been bought up by investors and they have built houses all over it, how is that going to be good for transport in this country?

Mr Westberg: I do not think the fact that a port is in different ownership will dictate where the traffic will go. If the market says that a port should be successful then, all other things being equal, I believe it will be.

Q181 Mr. David Clelland: There should not be any degree of forward planning then by Government? It should all be left to the market and it will all be okay?

Mr Westberg: That is our belief.


Q190 Mr. David Clelland: Just so that I can understand this, when we are talking about the market deciding, we are talking about the market deciding on the basis of the current infrastructure, but the argument appears to be developing now that if the infrastructure were better planned around the country the market might decide to move in other ways.

Mr Robinson: Yes, that is correct.

Q191 Mr. David Clelland: So it is not a question of the market deciding where the port should be?

Mr Robinson: No.

Q192 Mr. David Clelland: It is the market deciding which ports to use and if the ports are good enough then they will use them.

Mr Robinson: Yes.


Q205 Mr. David Clelland: If it is all just left to the market and the south east ports grow and grow, what estimates have been made of the increasing turnaround times that might result from that sort of policy, because that would obviously mean that if a ship, instead of going to the south east, came to the north, it would not have to wait to get in, so that would reduce the time, would it not? It is not just a question of distance; it is a question of turnaround time as well, is it not?

Mr Robinson: The MDS Transmodal study does not cover that issue, to be fair. It assumes that there is a defined amount of capacity in the south east, be it from a ship point of view or a truck point of view, in getting the box out of a port. However, there are issues around performance of ports overall in terms of speed of turnaround of ships and trucks, and the more you concentrate into a single area naturally there will be a greater risk of delay and, given a greater spread of that volume, the likelihood is that the system as a whole will perform a lot better, not just a specific port.

Mr Bird: Chairman, you asked specifically for numbers. In our evidence to the Committee we have given you those numbers. Looking at our map, and you have put a question on that already and we will make available to you as well the study we have had audited by Deloittes, it shows the distribution of containers in the UK, and in road haulage there is an £82 per container saving on a round trip when comparing Bristol with Felixstowe. That is the road haulage element to move the container between the port and the distribution of the containers.


Q231 Mr. David Clelland: Mr Crow said that a drive for productivity and efficiency would drive up accidents. We must improve productivity and efficiency but it must be possible for the two to be compatible.

Mr Crow: We are all in favour of increasing productivity and efficiency. What we cannot have is it being brought in on the basis of lack of concentration, people working too long hours, not having sufficient breaks, concentration slips. I disagree with what was said earlier on about it being only the land side. Here is a breakdown of the injuries that are taking place. There were 29 accidents in 2003 of handling operations on a ship. In 2005 there were a further 28. In 2002[sic] there were a further 22 and there has been a significant amount of injuries that have taken place, not just on the land side but on the ship side as well, so it is not fair to say that is the case.


Q241 Mr. David Clelland: If then productivity and efficiency are superior in other countries does that mean their accident rates are higher than ours?

Mr Robinson: I do not have any statistics to prove that, but if you go out to Asia in particular the health and safety regulations are nowhere near as stringent as the UK's.

Q242 Mr. David Clelland: What about closer to home? What about continental Europe?

Mr Robinson: In Europe it is allegedly the same legislation - I use that word carefully - in terms of health and safety.

Q243 Mr. David Clelland: But in terms of productivity and efficiency?

Mr Robinson: A lot of European ports have automated.

Q244 Chairman: Ah, ha, ha, so state ports have automated. Is that what you are telling us, Mr Robinson? In spite of all your money we are not automated?

Mr Robinson: No. The container terminals that are operated on the continent are in private hands. The actual terminals, the port authorities, are state owned.

Q245 Chairman: So they are better at spending money than you?

Mr Robinson: One could argue that could be the case, yes.

Q246 Mr. David Clelland: But we do not know what their accident rates are?

Mr Robinson: I do not know off the top of my head, no.

Q247 Mr. David Clelland: Could you furnish us with that information?

Mr Robinson: There are fewer people involved because it is automated.

Mr Bird: Just to switch from containers to coal, for example, we have had an awful lot of coal in the port, six million tonnes this year. We are as productive as the coal terminals in Rotterdam and Antwerp. We buy the same cranes, so they have the same cranes, we have the same cranes. They may deploy more cranes to the vessel itself to get the coal out. The coal does require dockers to go into the hold when the grab is taking the coal out to push the coal up the sides of the hold towards the grab in order to get the coal out, so it does still require a man being down in the hold, and I would agree with Mr Crow that there are accidents that happen in holds which are not strictly on the quayside, although the vessel is, of course, attached to the quay at the time.


Q301 Mr. David Clelland: I think the answer has been touched on. If we were going to develop at Teesside a deepwater port with all of the modern facilities and accesses and national infrastructure to feed that port then ships may very well be attracted away from the busy South East to the North East rather than Rotterdam.

Mr Gibbons: For example, last week the Karen Maersk went into Felixstowe, it is 406 metres long, it carries 12,000 TEUs. That is not going to go anywhere else other than the South East because it is on a tight schedule, it has to be in Bremerhaven the next day, has to be in Rotterdam the next day, has to be in Le Havre, then it has to be in the Far East, through the Malacca Strait and it has to go to China where our imports are coming from. Our ports industry is based on imports and not exports basically.

Chairman: I do not think we would actually doubt that.

Q302 Mr. David Clelland: So there is, as you know, a drive to develop Teesport.

Mr Gibbons: Yes, there is.

Q303 Mr. David Clelland: Do you think that is a worthwhile project and something which could lend itself to improving the service of ports around the UK?

Mr Gibbons: I think ports are a valuable asset in the UK at this present time. Any diversification from the South East I would like to see by feeder, large feeders, 200 box ships that can take 200 lorries off the road, can take 200 lorries off of congested rail that just goes overnight from Southampton or Felixstowe, pops into Immingham and goes on to Grangemouth. That is what I favour. That spins the growth from the South East to the North. The southern ports act as trans-shipment ports then, exactly what Rotterdam does on the Rhine that sends the boxes from the Rhine into Austria, into the Benelux countries.


Q310 Mr. David Clelland: Could that be what Bob Crow was referring to as the danger of accidents increasing because of the drive to increase efficiency and productivity?

Mr Crease: Bear in mind the Port Marine Safety Code is for things that float effectively, tugs, mooring boats, pilot launches and pilots. The fact of the matter is the towage companies are under pressure from the shipping companies to reduce their costs which encourages customers to bring their ships into the port. That is the first point of reducing the cost within the entry into the port.


Q326 Mr. David Clelland: We also heard that other ports are more efficient and more productive than ours are. Is there any way of improving the productivity and efficiency of our ports without jeopardising safety?

Mr Gibbons: No. I think safety is at the heart of all our actions in the port. If you work in a port and you accept it is one of the most dangerous land-based industries in the country, you have got to have sufficient training, sufficient induction, constant health and safety awareness, you have to do risk assessments, you have to make sure that people are well aware of their duties to protect themselves. They are efficient on top of that, but that is not a hindrance to it, that is just an example of very highly trained, very motivated individuals who are protected in their environment by a safety umbrella, which they are aware of. What we are saying is in the established ports, in the ports that employ permanent individuals, that is the benchmark. It is when you go to the agencies that are supplying to these ports on an annual basis untrained, unskilled people who are not trained in safety that is where these accidents come from. That is our contention.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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