Light dues are the charges that ships using UK ports pay towards the cost of running the three lighthouse authorities in the UK and Ireland, explains PD Ports. The Department for Transport (DfT) says an increase is needed to cover a shortfall in annual revenue.
The increase–of up to 67% for some ships–cannot be absorbed by an industry already operating to very tight profit margins, says Martyn Pellew, Group Development Director, PD Ports. “The costs will inevitably have to be passed on, eventually as far as end-users.”
“In these difficult economic times it is a real kick in the teeth for the UK Government to impose such a significant hike in costs,” says Pellew. “And coming on top of the recent decision to backdate business rates bills, it seems the Government is trying to kill off the ports industry altogether.”
PD Ports estimates that the ships using its Teesport facilities in North East England will be paying an extra £4 million ($5.9 million) a year in total. The fee is calculated according to the gross tonnage of the ship and number of calls per year so the increase starts at 17% but will increase to 67% for some of the larger ships, says PD Ports.
“We have invested heavily in new facilities at the port to attract more ships to come here,” says Pellew. “And both Tesco and Asda have built major distribution centers at the port under our ‘portcentric’ business strategy. Thousands of new jobs are being brought into the area because of the port.”
The UK maritime industry is concerned that ships will bypass the UK altogether and call at ports on the Continent, where no light dues are charged. An estimated 500,000 jobs in the UK are dependent on the maritime services, and it contributes £25bn to GDP, PD Ports points out.
The Government has published a consultation document and is calling for comments by May 18, 2009. PD Ports' Pellew is urging exporters, importers, business bodies, consumer groups and others concerned about the viability and competitiveness of the UK ports industry to approach their local Ministers of Parliament and/or make comments directly via the DfT website. The consultation document and the associated impact assessment can be found at www.dft.gov.uk/consultations/open/lightduesamendment/