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UK Port Chaos

Last month we reported on this site about the difficulties and delays occurring in the supply of goods by container to the UK and from China in particular.   The chaos which is unfolding has also now been highlighted inn a very good article written by Zoe Wood in the Guardian where she highlights further reasons for the problems being experienced.  In particular she draws attention the issue of the government holding 11,000 containers of PPE in the port of Felixstowe, some for over 4 months.   As she points out this equates to a whopping 30% of the storage space in the port.  For any business disruption on this scale is almost impossible to manage.  This, as we have already reported, is now having a knock on effect at our other major ports of Southampton and London Gateway.  As a consequence many container ships bound for the UK are now diverting to other European ports and delaying arrival in the UK often by several weeks causing massive problems for retailers and wholesalers and industries waiting for components.

For a government that says it promotes business, wants to encourage growth in the economy and wants open and free trading with the world – especially the world outside of Europe (which is where most of the Felixstowe traffic comes from) this is an extra ordinary state of affairs.  The DTI appears to be going to strenuous lengths to encourage more trade with the world.  It is never more important to the UK than now when we are facing what is possibly the worst recession in living memory (10% fall in GDP – the worst in Europe) and of course Brexit.   So why at a time like this would the government deliberately and wantonly clog up and disrupt the UK’s major port for trade bringing it almost to a standstill?   In addition, as anyone involved with shipping will know, the cost of leaving containers full in the port is huge with each container incurring punitive quay rent and demurrage charges – something we, as tax payers, are having to fund.    It would perhaps be understandable if there was no alternative but to leave them there, but this is clearly not true.  The government in the guise of the MOD has large, underutilised estates including army barracks and depots, disused and underused airfields and even empty dock yards.   This space could very easily and simply be used at the very least to store the containers which would free up the port to resume something nearer to normal operations.  Better still they could use much of the empty covered space (such as hangars) to unpack and store the contents of the containers.  This would save the treasury a fortune in demurrage fees.  It would also help alleviate another problem world trade is experiencing namely the complete lack of empty containers in China where now the price of a container to ship to Europe has doubled in the past two weeks alone.

One has to ask the question therefore, why are the government doing this?  There seem to be only two, both equally unpalatable reasons.  Either the government are deliberately doing this to hinder, disrupt and destroy UK businesses and to orchestrate a demise of the UK economy for reasons known only to them, or alternatively they are grossly incompetent in which case why aren’t heads rolling and the people responsible for this appalling state of affairs removed from office.  Surely there can be little more important to a government than maintaining and supporting its economy?

This would not alleviate all the problems at our ports and Felixstowe in particular as there are other structural deficiencies in the port which also need urgently addressing to make it fit for purpose if we want to continue as a successful trading nation.   As a recent study found it takes up to 50% longer to unload a vessel in Felixstowe compared to many European ports.  The storage of these 11,000 containers is something however that is easily remedied and which would make a huge difference to the port and also save the tax payers a lot of unnecessary expense at a time when our government can surely not afford to waste a penny.