Less than 1 in 5 UK port operators say they are ready for Brexit

Odgers Berndtson says the results are significant as current UK government contingency plans for a ‘hard Brexit’ are reliant on smaller, regional ports taking up the strain from congested mainline ports in the south of England.
Brexit, Uk, Trade, Logistics, Port operator

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With ten week to go until the United Kingdom is legally mandated to leave the European Union, only 16% of 100 port operators in the country have made any preparations, according to a new report.

Leaders at almost every UK port and harbour authority – in total around 100 - were asked about their state of readiness by the Maritime & Shipping Practice at Odgers Berndtson, a leading executive search firm.

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Of these, 94 said they had done “only some high-level planning” or nothing at all, while just 16 indicated that they had made any “significant or practical” plans for Brexit.

Odgers Berndtson says the results are significant as current UK government contingency plans for a ‘hard Brexit’ are reliant on smaller, regional ports taking up the strain from congested mainline ports in the south of England.

“The ports industry is keen to seize on any opportunities arising from Brexit, but this is the first real indication of what’s actually happening outside ports like Dover,” said Paul Butterworth, head of the Maritime & Shipping Practice at Odgers Berndtson.

The heads of individual ports across the country, privately owned, as well as trust port authorities and ports groups, revealed that:    

Although most (over 80%) UK ports have done little or no planning for Brexit, over half (59%) expect a negative or strongly negative impact;   

Despite the lack of preparation, only 25% of UK port leaders think they are currently in a position to handle Brexit well. A third believe they could cope, but ideally with further investment, whilst over 40% either don’t know or doubt their ability to handle additional demands. 

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Physical blockages and additional complexity arising from Brexit are the principal concerns of leadership teams, with around half (respectively 43.5% and 52%) giving these as their most pressing worries. 

Almost 80% gave physical infrastructure as their top priority for any further investment. Technology was first priority for 26%, with almost half (47%) making their second highest priority for additional investment. 

Most of the senior management teams (83%) believe their ports have the right people to lead in the short term. However, a similar number identified investing in senior people as a priority, albeit less urgent than infrastructure and technology. 

 “Finding senior people with the right combination of talents to develop UK ports strategically is already hard, and Brexit has made it much harder,” Mr Butterworth said. “People are unwilling to take the risk and relocate with so much uncertainty.” 

 “Traditionally both senior people and many semi and unskilled workers in UK ports have come from across the European Union,” he continued. “Whilst the UK aspires to attract a more global workforce, this doesn’t work at the top because the ports industry is very different in other parts of the world, and particularly the US.  Meantime many senior people working in Asia don’t want to lose the higher lifestyles they currently enjoy.”

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