Two third of UK ports are optimistic for business in 2021, survey finds


When asked to summarize their outlook for 2021 in one word or sentence, the word most commonly mentioned by respondents was ‘challenge’, followed by ‘uncertain’, with other responses featuring the word ‘difficult’. Some said 2021 would bring more challenges than 2020.

In most senses, the results from this survey were as expected, following the unimaginable and unprecedented challenges posed by 2020. The majority of ports stated that there had been negative impacts on their customer activity, which came at great cost to port businesses. Although not impacting all ports, Brexit changes are another great unknown,

…commented Phoebe Warneford-Thomson, Policy Manager and Economic Analyst, at the British Ports Association.

However, many others were optimistic, with the words ‘positive’, ‘hope’ and ‘opportunity’ also frequently mentioned.

These sentiments come after a tough year for ports, with 87% reporting that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted negatively on their customer activity.

The ports’ top concerns and issues for the year ahead, in order, were:

  • customer activity,
  • the overall status of the economy,
  • operational challenges posed by the pandemic,
  • Brexit, and
  • decreased revenue.

Indeed, this year will not be without its challenges, with continued disruption to the fishing industry and trade between the rest of the UK and Northern Ireland, and the staggered implementation of border controls continuing until June. However, 2021 should be a year of real opportunity too; as we hope to see the initial recovery to the economy post-COVID and have the chance to shape several key Government policies, including Freeports,

…added Warneford-Thomson.

The survey was conducted amongst the BPA’s membership which includes over 400 ports, harbours and terminals, representing 86% of UK’s shipping trade.

Other key results from the survey are:

  • Ports were largely neutral regarding their view of the economic climate for the next 12 months. A quarter of ports felt positive and a quarter of respondents held a negative view.
  • Over three-quarters of respondents stated that their revenue had fallen since this time last year.
  • The overwhelming majority of ports reported that COVID-19 negatively impacted on their customer activity in 2020, with 87% of respondents opting for a negative option (equally split between a ‘substantial’ and a ‘minor’ negative impact).
  • Regarding the cost of COVID-19 to port businesses, a third reported a cost of £0-99k and a third reported a cost of £100-499k. One-fifth of respondents reported a loss of £1-10m. Naturally, responses to this question were approximately correlated to the size of the port.
  • Most ports were not hiring above their usual levels this coming quarter, with just under three-quarters identifying that they were not, with just over a quarter responding that they were.
  • Ports were broadly evenly split regarding whether their port is investing in new business services, property, or infrastructure in the coming quarter. 31% reported that they are investing substantially, 26% reported a moderate amount, 24% stated a small amount, 19% stated they were not investing at all.



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