In a few short weeks no-deal Brexit has gone, in the words of Boris Johnson, from ‘a* million to 1 shot*’ to ‘touch and go.’ The prospect of a no-deal Brexit has been met with horror by many business owners. Even in leave voting Hull, manufacturers, hauliers and those whose livelihoods are linked to the Port such as exporting firms have voiced serious concerns over the idea of a hard exit.
But could it be that leaving without a deal could be the making of Hull? Could the freedom to make our own trade deals give the city new avenues for growth and see the Port of Hull see business levels return to, or even exceed, those of the 1970s? In this latest blog from Coversure Hull, Hull’s leading business insurance brokers, we’ll take a look at what could lay ahead for the city and see a future that might just be as bright as the 67.6% of leave voters hoped for.
The Port of Hull
The government announced this month that it was allocating an extra £9m to the UK’s port cities to help them prepare for a no-deal exit. Hull will likely receive some of this cash and while it’s a trifling sum in the scheme of things, it demonstrates a recognition by the government of the importance of supporting port cities such as ours.
What could be rather more lucrative is the shift in business away from the southern ports such as Dover, Tilbury and Felixstowe. Portsmouth has already braced itself for an influx of business as it sees hauliers and exporters move their trade to them as they fear gridlock and Operation Stack on the M20 as Dover becomes stymied.
Trouble is, for Portsmouth at least, is that the cargo entrance to their port is so close to the M27 that if they have just 18 lorries waiting then they will be backing up onto the motorway. Portsmouth handles around 500 trucks a day at present. Dover takes 10,000 a day. Their capacity then for more business is decidedly limited and the chances of Portsmouth suffering from similar congestion is worryingly high.
Hull on the other hand has capacity and has been gearing up for and seeking new business for some time now. Deals such as the one between Allied British Ports and Maersk means that 12,000 containers can now come in and out every year as Hull’s Container Terminal has deep-sea connections to the rest of the world for the first time in its history. This has been made possible by a £60m investment by ABP and will make Hull one of Europe’s key container ports and will open it up to a global market, not just a European one.
Hull: A Free Port?
We’ve written before about the idea of Hull becoming a free port and it’s clearly one that Boris Johnson is keen on:
‘That’s the sort of thing we can do, we could do free ports, it would be a massive boost to the country but can only do when we can come out’
A free port is a government designated port or area which is tax free zone and it could bring sizeable benefits to the local economy:
• 86,000 new jobs – according to the leading pro-Brexit thinktank, the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS)
• Technology boost – many consider free ports to be a way to boost technological skills – something that Hull the smart city could obviously benefit from
• Manufacturing boost – by freeing goods that are manufactured on site and re-exported, free ports can give a boost manufacturing business – something the local economy would clearly welcome. The United States has over 250 free ports, which handle over $750bn of merchandise and have played a major role in retaining, attracting and growing domestic manufacturing
• Empowering the Northern Powerhouse – by having an area where a variety of goods can be brought in tax free and manufactured goods exported on the same basis businesses would be drawn in. Given the fresh uncertainty over the future of HS2, opening free ports could be key to the entire Northern Powerhouse project
Boom Time for Hauliers
Haulage is big business in Yorkshire. As a whole the north is known as a ‘super region’ when it comes to freight as it accounts for around 1/3 the UK’s road, rail, distribution and port activity. The potential explosion in business at the Port of Hull could mean a bonanza for the region’s truck owners and haulage businesses. In the last few years we’ve seen a marked rise in the number of people asking for truck insurance quotes which has almost certainly been driven by Hull and Immingham having grown by 41% since 2013.
Yes, there could be a problem with a shortage of drivers post-Brexit when freedom of movement comes to and end. The UK already has a shortage of valid category C or C+E driving licence holders in the UK. According to the Road Haulage Association, a further 45,000 are needed just to plug the current gap and with 14% of drivers from EU nations, many of those could yet be driven away.
In the medium-term, however, driverless trucks could solve this issue. The government has already pledged to make the UK a world leader in driverless truck technology, indeed they are already being used on works in Cambridgeshire.
Could a No-Deal Brexit Bring Boom Times To Hull?
This is the £1bn question, and while there are doubtless significant potential downsides to a no-deal exit – especially in the short-term – Hull could come out on top. A lot will depend on the kind of trade deals that can be struck, with whom and how quickly and also the attitude of the city’s businesses and civic leaders. Embrace the change and deal with the challenges that these bring in a constructive way and our future could be brighter than our past.
Hull knows a lot about adaptation and innovation. The city has experienced a rebirth since 2017 and has shown itself to be resilient, resourceful and ready to embrace new technologies and new opportunities. Hull a s green port, Hull as a smart city, Hull as a free port, these are just some of the exciting possibilities and aspirations we’ve blogged about over the past few years. Brexit is a major challenge, but we wouldn’t bet against Hull rising to that challenge and being set for boom rather than a bust after the 31st of October.
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