Blog: Supporting industry clusters across the UK

By: Simon Eardley

Programme Manager
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Autumn has already been exceptionally busy for the Maritime UK Regional Cluster Development Programme, led by Mersey Maritime with engagement activity taking place in several regions of the United Kingdom in recent weeks. As lead member of Maritime UK for regional growth, Chris Shirling-Rooke and Simon Eardley, take to the road on a regular basis, now that Covid-19 restrictions have lifted, to support other areas as they build and develop their own cluster organisations. This work is part of a joint programme of activity which is backed by the Department for Transport and delivered through Maritime UK via Mersey Maritime. The programme started in 2019 in earnest and has gone from strength to strength ever since. The latest round of meetings has seen the team visiting the Port of Tyne and Casper Shipping (11 October) as work gets underway to formalise an RCO in the north east, the Scottish Maritime Cluster on 12 October and most recently Mayor of the Tees Valley, Ben Houchen (09 November) and longstanding partners of Mersey Maritime, Team Humber Marine Alliance in Hull (10 November).

Commenting, CEO of Mersey Maritime and Assistant Chair of Maritime UK, Chris Shirling-Rooke, said: “We’ve had a fantastic series of meetings this Autumn with many of our established and emerging partners who share our drive to give the regions of the UK a major voice on the maritime stage. Following on from the success of London International Shipping Week, we knew there was a real desire amongst colleagues to get back to more in-person engagement as business really kicks on from the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. And we know that our regional cluster organisations have such a critical role to play in the delivery of the economic recovery our coastal communities need to see in the months and years ahead.

“We are proud, as the Maritime UK Regional Cluster Development Programme, led by Mersey Maritime, to champion with such commitment this important and crucial strand of work that flows out of our overall strategic vision for the industry which is enshrined in Maritime 2050. We are heartened to see so many individuals, organisations and businesses getting behind this work in every region of the UK. Our most recent priority has been stakeholder engagement with a range of colleagues in the north east, from the Port of Tyne to specific businesses already supporting the wider work of Maritime UK, to key political figures such as the dynamic elected Mayor of Tees Valley, Ben Houchen. We know from our own experience that collaborative working on delivering the levelling-up agenda to Freeports to a focus on skills and careers in the maritime industry, can make a significant difference to the regional economy. There’s a direct correlation between the presence and activity of maritime regional cluster organisations and jobs, growth, and prosperity – that’s why we do what we do.

“But that doesn’t mean to say there aren’t challenges before us too. We heard very clearly from our colleagues in Team Humber Marine Alliance that they face significant challenges. Whilst their region is a massive player in the whole net zero agenda, being a major gateway to some of the world’s largest offshore wind infrastructure, they can feel rather cut off by relatively poor transport infrastructure. There’s often a big focus on north-south connectivity but for regions like Humber on the east coast and Liverpool on the west coast, the real imperative is east-west. Together we’ve committed to redouble our efforts to get this message to the heart of government and see real and rapid investment delivered to overcome some major challenges in linking up these vitally important economic powerhouses, not least given the Freeport opportunities that both coasts are set to enjoy. We’ll be announcing more work on this very soon.”

Simon Eardley, Regional Cluster Development Manager, added: “This most recent round of cluster engagement has demonstrated how our work isn’t just focused on supporting our regional cluster colleagues to deliver on Covid-19 recovery priorities in their spheres of influence, it is about supporting them to be ambitious around all the other key issues and agendas of the moment. In September we launched a Coastal Powerhouse manifesto. This practical document highlighted positive steps that government and industry can work together on to deliver a renaissance in some of the most deprived communities of the country and we continue to ask everyone we meet as part of the regional cluster development activity to back our key priorities and asks of government. At the same time, we are keen to support the development of those teams who are already up and running, such as the Scottish Maritime Cluster, who are keen to capitalise on the international focus they’ve benefited from with the COP26 climate summit. Maritime is big business in Scotland, and we are committed to helping our colleagues there to grow and expand to be a strong voice for the industry to both Governments in Holyrood and Westminster.

“And let’s not forget the imperative of the industry to respond to the massive challenge of climate change. The recent Budget and Spending Review outcomes contained some encouraging news with the announcement of massive R&D investment in the form of an expansion of the Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition with maritime to receive a share of £300 million of funding resource. It is clear from our discussions in Scotland, the north east and the Humber, that there’s ambition to maximise this opportunity to the benefit of the whole country. Now we need the detail around how this money will be made available to the industry. Our regional teams are well placed to help those with which they have a close relationship around innovation, skills, and projects to deliver on major priority themes, realise their ambition. We are excited to be part of this work around the whole coast of the UK both now and in the months ahead.”

Read the Coastal Powerhouse Manifesto here: