Mersey Maritime Blog! Let’s make 2022 the year that tackles the big maritime challenges of our time as we emerge from the global pandemic

At the start of a crucial year for Mersey Maritime, the maritime industry and the wider UK economy, our Chief Executive, Chris Shirling-Rooke, reflects on some of a little of what 2022 might have in store for the country’s leading regional cluster organisation, its members and the sector as a whole. As the shift moves increasingly from the Covid-19 pandemic to the other grand challenges of our time, there’s much to be optimistic about – and much work to do – as we maximise the opportunities before us.

Chris Shirling-Rooke writes:

“A new year is often the time for resolution writing (and possibly breaking within a matter of days!) or at the very least taking a moment to reflect on what’s happened in recent times and then looking forward to the future. What has gone right? What has gone wrong? What change can we bring about as individual people, as individual businesses and within the collected and wider maritime family to drive our industry forward? These themes were very much on my mind over the recent festive break and as Mersey Maritime looks towards what 2022 might have in store. I feel very optimistic indeed that this is going to be one of our best years yet!

Finally it looks like we can be genuinely optimistic that the pandemic, at least in this country, is starting to be put behind us and that isn’t just the view of politicians! There was certainly a worrying and nervous time for us all just before Christmas with the news of the rise of the Omicron variant but our country’s impressive vaccine rollout has stood us all in good stead to be robustly protected from the latest mutations of the Covid-19 virus. Like so many, I was heartened and proud to see how people responded to the message ‘Get Boosted Now’ and the manner in which the NHS and our armed forces pulled out all the stops to deliver booster vaccines at pace and in incredible numbers. A true source of inspiration! Now, with Covid related hospital admissions flat across the country in most of England, and signs that the case rate for Omicron is dropping, many now believe that high levels of immunity in Britain are really keeping the virus at bay. It looks like we could be the first country in Europe, possibly the northern hemisphere as a whole, to be ‘out of the pandemic’ and having the disease as endemic as the other four coronaviruses known to be in circulation. I’m sure we all sincerely hope this is the case.

I look forward to being able to concentrate further on the major challenges we face as a country, and that must include the ongoing threat of climate change. Our industry has a major role to play in driving the decarbonisation of shipping and the wider maritime sector. As I’ve said before, if we don’t rise to the challenge of this important agenda then simply as a country we can’t expect to meet our net zero ambitions any time soon. A recent report from the World Economic Forum emphasised that the most severe global threat we face in the next decade remains climate change but the pandemic has distracted from efforts to tackle it. We must refocus on it again in earnest.

Later this spring we should hear more about the practical ways in which we might be able to continue doing so. Members will recall the government’s £23 million ‘Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition’ which was launched earlier in 2021 and to which a number of our businesses, such as Bibby Marine and Expleo, were successful in pitching their ideas and receiving funding. That was just the start. The Budget last November confirmed that some £300 million would be made available for R&D focused on the decarbonisation of transport and it is clear from the soundings we have taken that the maritime sector will receive a substantial share of this funding going forward this year. We’ll need to be quick to maximise this opportunity once again for our region and make sure the industry here in the Liverpool City Region and the greater North West can capitalise on the opportunity to be at the cutting edge of this massive challenge. We should also set it as a massive chance to gain ‘first mover advantage’ on what it might mean for business going forward too.

Next week we’ll be announcing more details of the practical steps we’ll be taking to help deliver a real focus on technology and innovation in the region. We know there are some fantastic ideas out there. Our job is to make sure our businesses have the support and access to the expertise that helps to make these ideas a reality on the ground, not just here on the west coast of the country but across the UK and internationally too. The Mersey Maritime team is genuinely excited by what this means. Watch this space!

But our work isn’t just limited to this focus. We’ve hit the ground running already this year with our first Face-2-Face event with Lee Rollason from Ørsted. This was a really fantastic start to this programme of activity with a fascinating insight into all the great work underway on our ‘doorstep’ in the green energy sector, of which Liverpool Bay is such a significant player. This is just the start. We have a schedule now in place for much of the year and that will also be interspersed with a range of other activities. From the Policy Forum (the next one with a focus on the National Shipbuilding Strategy refresh) to practical workshops on marketing to our next Mersey Maritime Exchange Conference and the eighth Mersey Maritime Industry Awards, there is massive potential for us to make this the best year yet for the industry. We’ll also have the latest ‘State of the Maritime Region’ report as our partners the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) start to finalise their latest analysis and make the findings available to us. Early indications are encouraging for an industry that we know makes a massive contribution to the local economy.

As ever though, this year will be all about our members. We want you all to be part of the potential we have and to have access to the support you need to maximise your engagement with our organisation which has at its heart the ambition to support you. Our team is the strongest it has ever been! Please get in touch with us and see just how we can work with you to make 2022 a time when maritime is absolutely at the forefront of everyone’s minds in this region and across the UK too.”