The United Kingdom’s coastal communities were among the most disadvantaged areas in the country even before the outbreak of COVID-19. They have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. A recent report found that coastal towns and formerly industrial areas had seen particularly big increases in unemployment.
Now they must not be left behind again. In fact, they must be put at the very centre of the government’s plan to rebuild the economy. There is a chance now to remake the UK economy in a fairer and greener way, but in order to do it, the government must collaborate with the maritime sector and understand the role these communities can play.
The Conservative Party ran in the general election on a platform that included paying closer attention to the country’s neglected coastal towns and cities and “levelling up” the economy. Now these same seaside communities are buckling under even greater economic strain due to the spread of COVID-19. But they can play a starring role in driving the green growth that is central to the UK’s recovery as the need to address the climate crisis grows more urgent. The only obstacle to this is the upfront cost required; this will not be attractive in the short term to businesses strapped for cash.
What is needed, then, is intelligent investment in sustainable infrastructure, manufacturing and innovation. Indeed, there is a vast global market opportunity here—one already recognised by competitor maritime nations, such as Singapore, the Netherlands and the countries of Scandinavia, which are moving ahead of us. It has been independently estimated that an investment of £1 billion by the government will create close to 74,000 jobs throughout the supply chain, across the United Kingdom, and, in particular, in those neglected coastal communities with a rich tradition of maritime economic activity. We urgently need government to kick-start a world-leading maritime decarbonisation programme in the UK, creating thousands of new green jobs.
Government and industry must be brave enough to invest in these towns and cities and position them to grow through the industries of the future. There are no economies better placed to gain from the predicted doubling of the global maritime sector than those by the coast. Investment will create jobs, drive sustainable growth and even bring about a reimagining of the way we move goods and people and generate renewable energy.
This is because water adds value. This has been shown time and again. Almost all the great cities of the world were built over or along rivers, by the sea or near large bodies of water. But now the water means a lot more than a primitive society having something to drink, or even the exchange of goods. It means an opportunity for innovation in zero-emission technologies, employment, and growth on a vast scale.
To begin with, the potential size of the ‘blue economy’ is over $3 trillion. That’s a huge opportunity for a country with maritime in its DNA—other countries are determined to get their share, but Britain is incredibly well placed to lead in so many of the drivers for this precited growth. Taking the most important – decarbonisation – we can have our cake and eat it by developing new industries that help meet our net-zero commitments, too.
Already, the UK maritime sector is innovating. We are at the forefront of green technology globally. Investment in green infrastructure must be matched by green technology to propel vessels, and so far public grants and private innovation have borne fruit. The innovation driven by companies like Artemis, RS Sailing and Plymouth Electric Boats are proof of this. And the ‘Clean Maritime Call’—a joint public-private partnership which involved giving £1.4 million to 10 companies developing green technology—yielded the first fully electric speedboat, made by RS Sailing. The £1.4 million that the Department for Transport gave out also drove a wave of private investment. And the initiative was hugely oversubscribed: there were 55 submissions in total.
Though the government should invest more in British maritime, industry should be encouraged to join what is now the national collaborative body to identify technological solutions to maritime decarbonisation and to co-invest. A more supportive environment would attract investment in the nation, too, and as a global maritime hub, the UK’s success rests heavily on its ability to attract businesses and individuals from around the world. Competitor jurisdictions aggressively promote their interests in an attempt to attract firms based in the UK, and as we work to reinvigorate the sector in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, we must take look at our business environment and take action not just to attract foreign investment but to remind international companies why they are here.
Combining government funding and private innovation is central to rebuilding the UK economy in a fairer, more sustainable way. And a key part of this must be the levelling-up of our long-neglected coastal communities which, due to their locations, are well-placed to play a big part in a green recovery. The maritime sector already makes a substantial macroeconomic contribution to all regions of the United Kingdom. Support for this sector will therefore benefit the entire country, and as the sector grows, green growth in particular will be driven by the coastal communities that have been neglected for far too long.
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