Mick Whitley, the Labour Member of Parliament for Birkenhead, welcomed the Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon to his constituency yesterday (2 August. ) Joined by the Shadow Minister for Aviation and Maritime, Mike Kane, the visit began at the headquarters of Mersey Maritime – one of Europe’s leading maritime clusters.
Mersey Maritime CEO, Chris Shirling-Rooke, explained the exciting work his organisation is involved in. A wide-ranging and lively discussion about the importance of the maritime industry to the local economy ensued.
Mick Whitley said, “The experience of the pandemic has demonstrated just how dependent the UK is on the maritime industry. Ninety-five per cent of the goods we buy and sell arrive via ports like Liverpool and if the ships stopped coming, we’d begin to feel the effects in less than two days. The sector also has massive implications for our region. Merseyside was built on the back of the maritime industry and it continues to contribute more than £4 billion to the region’s economy each year.”
Mick continued, “But we also need to be aware of the enormous challenges the sector faces. First and foremost, decarbonisation. International shipping is one of the largest contributors to the climate crisis and we need extensive investment and innovation to get the industry off fossil fuels. British shipyards must be at the forefront of a green revolution in maritime. That’s what I’ve been saying in meetings with Transport Ministers. And if the government go ahead with the proposed National Flagship I have been clear – it should be built at Cammell Laird and act as a catalyst for green innovation in British shipbuilding.”
On 7 June 2021, Mick Whitley tabled EDM 146 which stated that the national flagship had “caused considerable public consternation at a time when many people are experiencing immense economic hardship; recognises, however, that the project has the potential to create much-needed work and investment in British shipbuilding” and called for “a well-funded shipbuilding strategy that secures the viability of the industry for generations to come and establishes the UK as a world-leader in green maritime technology.”.
One item on the agenda was how to attract young people – and especially young women – to the maritime industry. As a former Merchant Seafarer, this was an issue close to Mick’s heart.
He said, “As someone who spent six years at sea on the Blue Funnel Line, I know just how challenging and rewarding a career in the maritime industry can be. But I fear that the Government is failing to make working at sea an appealing prospect for many young people. Many school-leavers in my constituency of Birkenhead look at maritime and see an industry dominated by flags of convenience, low pay, and terrible working conditions.
“It’s no wonder that so few of them want to become seafarers. If we want to keep the proud tradition of British seafaring alive, we need radical action not just to raise pay and working conditions, but also to create meaningful training opportunities that equip young people with the skills they need to thrive in a fast-changing world of work. That means quality apprenticeships fit for the 21st century. I’ve raised this with the Government many times – most recently in a one-to-one meeting with Robert Courts, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport.”
Later, the group visited Wirral Waters and the Grade II hydraulic tower which is soon to become a world-leading Maritime Knowledge Hub. They had a guided tour led by the Director of Development at Peel Land and Property, Richard Mawdsley, and Cllr Tony Jones, Chair of Wirral Council’s Economy, Regeneration, and Development Committee.
Mick reflected, “For far too long, Birkenhead has missed out on investment going into our region. But it’s absolutely essential that communities on both sides of the Mersey benefit from commercial development. That’s why I’m delighted by the recent developments at Wirral Waters and am looking forward to working closely with Wirral Council on their ambitious plans for the regeneration of Birkenhead”.