Are we doing enough to value and support our ports and logistics sector?

The new cranes at Felixstowe port

The new cranes at Felixstowe port - Credit: Archant

When the latest Top 100 listing was produced, Sufffolk businessman Mark Ling felt the absence of a category for the region's ports and logistics industry was a glaring omission. Here he argues why it needs particular support

Mark Ling says that investment in infrastructure is required for Suffolk to build on the success of

Mark Ling says that investment in infrastructure is required for Suffolk to build on the success of the Port of Felixstowe. - Credit: Archant

Unnoticed, mundane and unpretentious, 'Ports, Shipping and Logistics' perfectly mirrors this corner of Suffolk. Yet, I believe we should all think rather differently about the industry and this area.

In the superb list of Top 100 East Anglia companies there are 10 dynamic firms humbly listed within 'other services'.

I argue that the block of companies representing 'Ports, Shipping & Logistics' represents a sector vital to all East Anglia and Britain plc, and one that is absolutely crucial to the long term prosperity of Ipswich and Felixstowe. Collectively, these 10 companies turnover around £1.8billion per annum, making the sector the third largest in the region (after Food, Drink & Agriculture and Financial Services).

The Port of Felixstowe is Britain's premier container port, handling around 3.7m TEUs (Twenty foot Equivalent Unit or standard containers). Along with BT Martlesham and central Ipswich the three interdependent and close neighbours generate a GVA (the value of good produced or size of economy) of £8bn, making it the biggest economic zone in all East Anglia.

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The port has prospered due to many factors: its unrivalled geographic location (opposite Rotterdam); a skilled and flexible labour force (over 50% from Ipswich area); Ipswich's historic road and rail infrastructure and engineering pedigree; plus brilliant and adaptable local trucking companies. The Greater Ipswich and Felixstowe area has a critical mass that has attracted offices for major container lines such as MSC (Ipswich) and OOCL (Levington). It has encouraged Fred Olsen Cruise Line to invest in its Ipswich headquarters, and persuaded Uniserve to invest in an unprecedented £45million, 500,000sq ft mega warehouse at Felixstowe.

Clearly we must never become complacent, nor stop investing in its future, yet there are many causes for concern. When the Orwell Bridge opened in 1982 it was handling 300,000 TEUs of cargo; current estimates are at 3million TEUs, 10 times the volume.

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Yet, 33 years later there have been few enhancements to our infrastructure. Despite the sector and area's importance both regionally, nationally and internationally, the Port of Felixstowe is the only major North European container port not connected by a motorway.

The Ipswich and Felixstowe line is still connected by an un-electrified, single track railway, meaning that freight trains entering or leaving the Port of Felixstowe cannot pass each other, and stand idle waiting for one to arrive, before one can leave! It is estimated that 32,000 mostly regional jobs are dependent on the sector, but at University Campus Suffolk and Suffolk New College there is not a single course or professional exam offered in shipping or logistics.

Envious eyes, nationally and on the European continent, look upon our market and are keen to prize it away. A new mega port to rival Felixstowe has recently been built on the well-connected north bank of the Thames.

Trucks from the new 'London Gateway' can travel 110 miles on motorway to reach the mega distribution hubs in the Midlands, while from Felixstowe our trucks must travel 120 miles before reaching motorway, and then a further 25 miles to reach the same key destinations. Railfreight is arguably greener, but the truth is that extra rail capacity will reduce, not produce, more jobs here. Trucking companies will simply relocate to the midlands, reducing employment and income in Suffolk. In any event investment and upgrading of the A14 to motorway standard, an Ipswich orbital (Northern bypass), plus investment in warehousing and distribution in Felixstowe and Ipswich are all essential to maintain our advantage, and to meet Britain's ever increasing demand for goods.

With all of this in mind, it is absolutely essential that the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership board is proportionately reflective of this sector and of Greater Ipswich & Felixstowe as a whole, and fully focused on winning key infrastructure for it. The area needs champions in local government, and therefore 'Devolution Suffolk' must ensure that future local government is tailored and reflective of this economic zone, and is permanently focused, accountable and ambitious.

• There are 10 'Ports, Transport and Logistics' companies in the top 100.

These are P&O (7), Hutchinson Ports (10), Gardline Shipping (17), Fred Olsen (28), MSC (29) Maritime Transport (37), Damco (42), DFDS (45) Goldstar Transport (65), and Truck East (68).

• What do you think? Are we overlooking the value of the ports and logistics industry? Email

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