Industry welcomes support for SMarT
THE UK shipping industry has welcomed the government’s pledge to continue to fund seafarer training, after shipping minister Mike Penning told parliament in a written statement that he had allocated £12m ($18.7m) a year to the Support for Maritime Training Scheme.
The news will boost Britain’s maritime industry, which also hopes to convince the government to retain the country’s tonnage tax regime and reject proposed amendments that could drive away foreign shipowners.
The Chamber of Shipping, which has been lobbyingto save SMarT, said it was “delighted” that the government had recognised the value of the scheme to the maritime sector.
“This is a good decision by the minister and we welcome the positive input from the review panel,” said director-general Mark Brownrigg. “The announcement will be well received by individual shipping company employers and other training providers who have delivered excellent value for the government’s investment to date
“The retention of SMarT funding is of crucial importance – and has been so particularly over the last decade which has seen numbers of new officer recruits double to circa 900 per year, in parallel with the revival of the UK fleet.”
Mark Dickinson, general secretary of the officers union Nautilus, also applauded the decision.
“We greatly welcome this announcement,” he said. “The fact that this review was being conducted against the background of cuts in public spending was of immense concern, and we are very pleased that the government has recognised the value to this maritime nation of supporting investment in seafarer training.
“A continued supply of maritime professionals is essential not only for the UK Merchant Navy, but for the country’s maritime infrastructure and for key industries and services such as marine pilotage, surveying, classification, maritime law, shipbroking and financial services.”
Mr Dickinson said SMarT represented “a vital element in continuing our proud tradition of seafaring and maintaining the UK maritime cluster in the face of intense international competition”.
The minister said he based his decision on an independent review into government support for merchant navy training and skills development.
“I have concluded that continuing government support for maritime training is required,” he said. “The consultants’ findings, accepted by the independent panel, were that there was a good value for money case for the retention of government funding.
“Evidence was presented to me, showing that for each working year of a seafarer who has benefited from government funding, approximately £14,500 in additional output is created relative to that of a UK worker displaying average productivity.”
Mr Penning noted that, with over 90% of the UK’s import and export trade by weight transported by the maritime sector, continued government support reflected the UK’s commitment to economic growth and would help to maintain the competitiveness of this sector.
“I have therefore decided to provide a budget of £12m a year for the support for maritime training scheme for the remainder of this parliament,” he said. This is unchanged from the current level but down from £15m in the 2010-2011 budget year.
“In view of the forecast national shortage of trained seafarers and the need to develop the next generation of UK officers and ratings, I intend that the majority of the budget be focused on supporting initial training for cadets studying at junior officer level with the remainder supporting ratings training and ratings to officer conversion training.”
There will be changes to the current scheme to improve value for money, maximising the intake of trainees and creating more rigorous accountability structures, Mr Penning said.
The Chamber of Shipping had put funding for training and a stable tonnage tax regime at the top of its agenda. Now, hopes are rising that the industry may have cause for a double celebration. In an interview with Lloyd’s List last week, Mr Penning said the tonnage tax was doing an excellent job.
“The industry does not want it touched. They want it left alone. They want stability in their industry. I can understand that and so can [transport secretary] Justine Greening,” he said.
Talking to Lloyd’s List before Monday’s announcement, Mr Browrigg said protection of funding for the SMarT was critical to London and the UK’s long-term future as a maritime nation.
“If we don’t have a skills set that is built indigenously, the UK maritime sector will be at a severe disadvantage,” Mr Brownrigg said.