Mersey Maritime chief executive Chris Shirling-Rooke has paid tribute to the “resilience” of Liverpool city region’s powerhouse maritime sector during the COVID-19 crisis.
In an online Face-2-Face webinar with dozens of the industry body’s members, Chris said Mersey Maritime had been proud to provide critical support to companies across Merseyside during the past few months.
“It has been an incredibly challenging time for everybody – not just in a business context, but on a personal and emotional level,” he said. “We recognised early on how tough things were going to be and that we were going to have to engage with our members quickly, pastoral support was the biggest thing for me.”
During the lockdown period Mersey Maritime offered a number of Face-2-Face sessions and guest speakers included industry leaders and both local and national politicians.
Mersey Maritime also played a leading role in establishing the Maritime UK ‘Maritime Business Continuity Taskforce’, which didn’t just open up lines of communication with other UK maritime clusters, but also with senior Government ministers and civil servants.
Chris said there were clear signs that Merseyside’s £4.2bn maritime sector, spread across 38 sub-sectors, was now in a position to drive recovery, adding the lines of communication now opened with Government offered the region a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”.
He added: “We know that the UK maritime sector is going to be a key priority for Government in the forthcoming Spending Review process, perhaps more so than ever before. Our involvement from the outset in the taskforce meant we were offered a conduit to Government and now we have to maximise this opportunity further if we want to see an influx of Government support into our city region.
“We have to tell them clearly where we want the investment to go. And we are talking about billions of pounds. We believe there will be around a billion pounds alone invested into maritime innovation. They want to hear about specific turnkey projects. This is all about jobs and skills and the levelling up agenda.”
High on Mersey Maritime’s agenda is the Maritime Knowledge Hub, a £25m project that was first launched at London International Shipping Week six years ago. Located in Wirral Waters, it will provide a national base for marine engineering research and development as well as skills training and business accelerator space.
Chris said he was confident the project would “break ground” by the end of this year, adding: “This project is so important and it has to happen. There have been a number of setbacks and delays that were out of our control but I would like to see the facility up and running by autumn 2022.”
He told members the global maritime sector was currently worth around $2 trillion to the global economy and that this was projected to rise to $3 trillion by 2030. In the Liverpool city region it already supports more than 52,000 jobs and Chris said Merseyside was “perfectly placed” to take advantage of the projected growth.
“In the last few months we have demonstrated the collective strength of the ecosystem we have created here. Currently 95% of global trade – all the stuff we use and consume every day – comes by boat so the maritime sector is only going to grow,” he said.
“I think Brexit will offer us the opportunities to trade even more with the rest of the world. We were previously worried about a Brexit wipeout but I think the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic has put that into perspective.”
Chris also promised ongoing support for members as they emerged from the crisis of the pandemic. In particular, he talked about specific support around innovation from October, helping members improve their systems and processes and help them increase productivity and profitability.
“The strength of the ecosystem we have created here is now being recognised in Westminster. They now have a clear understanding of how important we are,” he said. “I believe that by working together we can really bounce forward as a sector.”