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Thread: A real contender on the waterfront

  1. #1
    Senior Member Howie's Avatar
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    Kensington, Liverpool

    Thumbs up A real contender on the waterfront

    Sunday, 13 January 2008

    A real contender on the waterfront
    By Gavin Stamp
    Business reporter, BBC News, Liverpool

    Staring at a huge pile of lumpen metal, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in the middle of a giant scrap merchant's yard.

    But the scene is actually the Port of Liverpool on the banks of the Mersey.

    The scrap is just one of a wide range of goods - including steel, grain, whisky and clothes - which pass through its docks on a weekly basis.

    Liverpool is the UK's sixth-largest port for freight and the fourth-largest for container traffic.

    As the UK's main gateway for cargo trade with North America, its horizons are truly global. But it didn't always have the luxury of being so outward-looking.

    Its very survival was in doubt for much of the 1970s and early 1980s as a wave of damaging strikes, on the top of profound economic and technological changes, crippled its business.

    Bad old days

    The port has bounced back from
    the dark days of the 1970s

    When the Royal Seaforth Dock was built in 1969, the port handled 29 million tons of cargo a year. Yet by 1983, this had shrunk to nine million.

    Propped up by weekly government handouts, the port was - in the words of its now marketing director, Frank Robotham - facing an "abyss".

    That it emerged from that dark period intact was due as much to the strength and initiative of its management as the political support it received at both a local and national level.

    Compromises on both sides ushered in a new, more constructive era of industrial relations which strove to put the needs of the port's customers at the heart of the business.

    The legacy of the last outbreak of labour unrest in the mid-1990s was the introduction of flexible working practices, which Mr Robotham believes are now the envy of many rivals.

    "The way we can allocate resources to vessels is based on their arrival, not based on how we set our working practices," he says of current shift patterns.

    As well as buying shipping lines and investing in roll-on, roll-off capacity to boost its market presence, the port's recovery over the past 20 years was built around rebuilding and nurturing customer relationships.

    Supporting industry

    "We don't have the luxury
    of people knocking on our
    door every day wanting to
    come to Liverpool. For us to
    get business, we have to go
    out and sell it"

    Frank Robotham, marketing
    director Peel Ports

    It started by trying to attract smaller, independent shipping lines, which it felt might be inclined to favour Liverpool.

    In recent years, the port has become more aggressive, targeting firms within a 70-mile radius.

    It seeks to convince them of the merits of using the Port of Liverpool, rather than incurring increased costs by transporting goods from the South Coast.

    "One thing we had to do is show that we could provide a service to industry in the North West to make it competitive," Mr Robotham says.

    "I think we lost that connection in the 1970s, whereby people who were local to you didn't want to support you, because of what you were doing to yourselves."

    Recent successes have included Cadbury's switching its cocoa imports - processed in North Wales - back to Liverpool after more than 10 years.

    The stakes are high. The port knows that it has to outperform its main rivals - in terms of efficiency and cost - if it is to retain and win new business.

    "We don't have the luxury of people knocking on our door every day wanting to come to Liverpool," Mr Robotham acknowledges.

    "For us to get business, we have to go out and sell it. People could lose their job if we screw up. We always saw it from that perspective and we still do."

    New dimensions

    The onset of larger vessels is
    causing problems for many ports

    Seismic changes in the global shipping industry are now presenting Liverpool with a fresh commercial challenge.

    For many years, the standard size of container vessels has been dictated by the width of the Panama Canal, the world's largest shipping thoroughfare.

    But the Canal itself is now expanding and much larger "post-Panamax" ships, as they are known, are already a reality.

    In response, the port is embarking on its largest expansion for 40 years, which will see it spend £90m on building another deep-sea container facility by 2011.

    Neither the port's customers nor its backers saw the status quo as an option.

    Liverpool's 1930s entrance is built to "Panamax" dimensions, but rival ports such as Felixstowe and Southampton are already equipped to receive the larger vessels.

    Liverpool's core North American market is also rapidly moving in that direction, with New York set to upgrade its facilities by 2010.

    "If they had not secured this extension, there would have been a very serious question mark over its future as a deep sea port," says Ian Wray, chief planner at the Northwest Regional Development Agency.

    "They had to get it to stay in the game."

    Asian promise

    The lucrative Chinese market is
    currently beyond Liverpool's reach

    There is already concern that the port is unable to cater for direct trade from China, India and other Asian markets, which have shipping lines using the larger vessels.

    Not only is Asian trade four times the size of North America in volume terms, but it offers access to the riches of China and India, whose rapid industrialisation has poured cheap goods into Europe and sucked huge amounts of raw materials in the other direction.

    "It is a bit of a frustration to us," Frank Robotham says, "because Liverpool has the oldest Chinese community in Europe, we are twinned with Shanghai, and the North West most probably consumes the second-largest volume of Chinese products outside London."

    But the port will quickly win business after its expansion, he believes, with the number of Indian-owned firms operating in the vicinity offering "fantastic" opportunities.

    "The advantage for any shipping company coming here would be that they have a far greater percentage of exports compared to running it through the South Coast ports."

    The port's expansion is good news for manufacturers in North-west England. It is also likely to boost jobs in other maritime sectors, such as shipbroking and freight forwarding, which already support more than 25,000 jobs in Merseyside.

    Staying British

    In the global industry that is shipping, Liverpool is an increasingly rare phenomenon - a British-owned port.

    The recent sale of P&O and Associated British Ports saw the likes of Southampton pass into foreign hands, while Felixstowe is owned by Hong Kong's Hutchison Whampoa.

    The Port of Liverpool was bought in 2005 by Peel Holdings, which also owns the Manchester Ship Canal and Liverpool's John Lennon airport. It has since sold a minority stake to Germany's Deutsche Bank.

    But despite these global connections, the port remains firmly rooted in the North West and, Ian Wray believes, its fortunes and those of the city will always be closely intertwined.

    "The port has always been been a driver for recovery and growth in Liverpool."

    Source: BBC NEWS | Business

  2. #2
    Senior Member Howie's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Kensington, Liverpool


    Mersey pilots strike fear
    Jan 17 2008
    by Neil Hodgson, Liverpool Echo

    RIVER pilots covering the Port of Liverpool are to vote on industrial action.

    The dispute is over the sacking of a colleague two years from retirement, who was in charge of a pilot launch that became grounded.

    No-one was hurt but he was dismissed after disciplinary hearings and appeals.

    Now, 23 staff who operate pilot launches out of the Port of Liverpool and the bad weather station at Port Lynas, Anglesey, are voting on industrial action to win his reinstatement.

    This could lead to a strike bringing the port to a standstill.

    Tony McQuade, the Unite union’s senior regional industrial organiser, said the company had acted unfairly.

    “There have been other instances of launches being grounded but none has led to a sacking.

    “It is our very firm view that Mr Cummings should not be sacked for this incident which is the first in 13 years of service.

    “We would urge Peel Ports to act consistently and reinstate him.”

    Staff will vote on action between January 21 and February 4.

    No-one was available for comment from Peel Ports.

    Source: Liverpool Echo

  3. #3
    Senior Member Howie's Avatar
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    Aug 2005
    Kensington, Liverpool


    Port of Liverpool accuses Government of obstructing its growth
    Feb 7 2008

    THE Port of Liverpool yesterday launched an extraordinary attack on the Government – accusing it of “obstructing” its development.

    Giving evidence to a committee of MPs, owner Peel Ports condemned money pumped into the growth of Southern ports, which include Felixstowe, Southampton and Shell Haven, on the Thames.

    Peel Ports contrasted the £1.7m the Port of Liverpool received under the transport innovation fund (Tif) with the £88m handed to Southern ports.

    And it pointed to the “indirect subsidies” – better road and rail links to the national rail and motorway networks – that added to this “M25 effect”.

    As a result, 50% of deep sea containers arriving at Felixstowe and Southampton were for destinations north of Birmingham.

    Frank Robotham, Peel Ports group marketing director, said: “If that came into Liverpool, it would travel no more than 60 or 70 miles to get to its destination.

    “It would mean that cargoes would no longer have to go by road and rail from the South. It would create a significant modal shift, but we are not getting any support for it.

    “We would start to win back business that should, rightfully, be handled in Liverpool for our hinterland.”

    In its written evidence, Peel Ports were even more scathing, arguing the government’s policy was to “obstruct public sector finance in assisting the development of infrastructure”. It wrote: “The EU has recognised Merseyside as an area of deprivation by granting it Objective 1 status, yet one of the lead players in regeneration – the Port of Liverpool – has not benefited.”

    Mr Robotham urged the committee to press the government to put the North West Development Agency in charge of handing out grants for better freight facilities.

    And it argued Tif grants should be prioritised according to their benefit for the regions away from London.

    Mr Robotham told the MPs: “The Government should see the regional ports, outside the South East, as making a major contribution to economic development.”

    Last year, the biggest development in the Port of Liverpool for almost 50 years – a £90m riverside terminal at Seaforth – was given the go-ahead by the government.

    And work will start within weeks on the £7.9m Olive Mount Chord project, to reopen, after 20 years, a stretch of track between the port and the West Coast Main Line.

    But Peel Ports is seeking the go- ahead for its Port Salford project, a terminal alongside the Manchester Ship Canal, to handle containers primarily shipped through Liverpool.

    The Commons transport select committee was continuing its inquiry into freight transport, focusing on the problems facing ports across Britain.

    It is little more than a year since the same committee demanded rapid improvements to “dilapidated” railways into ports, attacking the Government’s “ports must pay” policy.

    But the Department for Transport (Dft), which published an interim ports policy report last summer, has yet to produce the final document.

    Source: Liverpool Daily Post

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