New Great Yarmouth port chief reveals hopes for the future of major port
06:00 02 March 2016
Archant Norfolk © 2016
The confirmation that Great Yarmouth port is to be the construction base for the £2.5bn East Anglia One windfarm could barely have come at a better time for Richard Goffin.
As the new director at the port, it’s his job to navigate its route to prosperity as many of its traditional major customer from the oil and gas industry face the worst downturn for a generation.
But the renewables sector could offer hope for the port and surrounding supply chain, with the multi-million pound deal announced today hoped to be the first of many.
“With the Enterprise Zone and Assisted Area Status we have got all the tools: we just need to join up as a group,” he said.
And he believes the under-pressure smaller businesses surrounding the harbour must survive, to ensure it remains attractive to the larger vessels which are essential to the port’s future - and ensure it has an edge over its rivals.
“Great Yarmouth has a high volume of smaller companies,” he said. “They are the ones that are going to be hardest pushed during the downturn.”
Mr Goffin, a former financial controller at the business, was promoted the top post after the port was sold by Gatwick Airport-owner Global Infrastructure Partners to Peel Ports Group at the end of last year for an estimated £50m.
The deal took place as oil prices slumped to around $36 a barrel - down from its peak of $110 in 2014. Gas prices have also fallen about 30pc over the last year, down to 31 pence per therm.
While Aberdeen is struggling, the effect locally has also been severe.
Richard Goffin, 37, joined the port company eight years ago after a career which saw him work at Unilever, RBS, Birdseye Iglo Group and Group Lotus.
The father-of-two, from Caister, has taken the role initially in an interim basis for six months during the transition period, but is hopeful it will be made permanent.
He said the business, which turned over about £10.8m for the year ending December 2014 and employs 65 people, would benefit from being part of a specialist port group.
“They rely on me to run the business, and with that comes responsibility over the results,” he said. “It’s within our gift to make it successful.”
He added turnover was expected to grow marginally this year, and improve further for 2017 onwards when more wind farms began to develop.
“Some smaller companies have gone bust, and people have been asked to take unpaid leave,” said Mr Goffin. “If we start to lose the large industry support companies that feed the smaller companies we will lose the supply chain benefits we have compared to other locations.”
He said he believed larger companies, such as Weatherford which recently announced it would be closing its Great Yarmouth plant in Gapton Hall industrial estate, would be back when things picked up.
And Mr Goffin said the Peel Ports Group had an appetite to invest and was keen to partner with customers to improve the port.
“They have a much longer-term view on things,” he said. “If an opportunity arises to invest in Great Yarmouth they will. We are looking for that opportunity.”
Mr Goffin has echoed calls for government support such as tax cuts for the offshore energy sector, but also help in the decommissioning of redundant gas platforms, to avoid contracts being lost to European rivals.
He also urged organisations in the East to work together, and borrow methods from the so-called Northern Powerhouse to boost jobs and bring more businesses to the area. “Great Yarmouth has got to be more vocal,” he said. “We have got some successful companies but we need to shout about it.”
He said Peel Ports wanted to get more involved, and offer a more end-to-end service by working with firms around the harbour.
And diversifying into other markets, such as biomass, could provide a cushion while energy prices are low.
The port handles a range of cargoes including aggregates, cement, dry and liquid bulks, fertilisers, forest products, grain and minerals.
“The benefit of Great Yarmouth is most service providers are on our doorstep,” he added. “We are very lucky as long as those businesses survive [the downturn].”
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