The UK’s departure from the European Union has changed the way people think about the logistics industry and supply chains. Never has there been more public scrutiny on trade and the efficient movement of goods.
What has not changed is the ability of one port, two ferry operators and a fleet of 12 dedicated ferries to handle up to 10,000 lorries a day, and facilitate a 180km trade expressway that delivers up to £122bn (or 17%), of the UK’s trade in goods each year, predominantly with the EU. Geography will not change either, and Dover will remain the only place from which such a fleet can achieve up to 120 ferry movements a day, where each ferry is berthed, unloaded, re-loaded and heading back to France in as little as 45-50 minutes on the shortest sea crossing. With the French coast often in full view, this finely tuned machine simply cannot be matched in terms of capacity or speed.
Of course, external factors such as border controls may slow things down, but they will do that at every EU-facing gateway across the country. What makes Dover different is that it has the experience of how to deal with major disruption and find a way through – nowhere else has this experience.
That is why, within a few days of the last significant incident whereby thousands freight vehicles were held on the UK motorway (Operation Stack in the summer of 2015), Dover was once again handling record volumes. During the course of any year, the Port of Dover manages smaller disruptions through its continuing professional approach. Dover has stood the test of time.
The entire operating system – the port and its infrastructure, border controls and ferry operations – is designed around the fast-paced, seamless movement of traffic. With the growth in volume, there is a strong indication that people want to continue to take advantage of the Port of Dover and its ferry partners. The UK government understands this, and the port has been working closely with it for some time, with a firm remit to keep traffic flowing across the Channel.
Guidance and partnerships
Preparation is key and there has been close coordination between the port and its ferry partners to look at a wide range of scenarios.
The Danish shipping company DFDS has been adapting its IT systems and building expertise in order to offer customs and other services to its customers in order to help mitigate any effect and help clients protect their businesses. P&O Ferries has been working with the authorities on detailed preparations to support its operation at Dover which, along with its other routes, will continue to give customers a range of options for connecting with Europe under every scenario.
The UK government recently published guidance to businesses trading with the EU on what they will need to do to help keep trade flowing in the event of the UK leaving the EU with no deal. This begins to provide the missing link that enables Dover’s customers to prepare.
Dover’s voice as the key UK-European trade gateway is being heard clearly and the UK government is both listening and responding. Throughout this debate the port’s management has maintained that the way to keep people and goods flowing through Dover is to conduct any new or additional processes away from the physical border.
The UK government’s HM Revenue & Customs no-deal border guidance is the manifestation of that. Achieving fluidity at Dover is the Holy Grail to keeping trade flowing at every EU-facing British port, each of which face the same challenges. As more plans are unveiled, the port’s customers can prepare with increasing confidence.
The Port of Dover is the freight market’s clear preference and will continue to be so – it delivers unrivalled speed, flexibility and capacity. Brexit will not change geography and with virtually half of all the UK’s roll-on roll-off freight enjoying the advantages of Dover, rerouting even a small number of lorries will not work and, as assessed by consultancy Oxera, will require additional investment of up to £2.5bn to even attempt it.
Throughout the Brexit debate, what people have been seeking is clarity. Uncertainty continues, but the Port of Dover is prepared. It will continue to manage our infrastructure professionally and its team is ready to handle whatever happens. The port looks forward to welcoming customers on 29 March, 30 March – and far into the future.