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How the Port of Dover is Supporting the UK’s Trading Ambitions

Port of Dover

6 min read Partner content

The Port of Dover is a gateway through which people, goods, and ideas have flowed in both directions for centuries. Now, as the UK recalibrates its trading relationship with Europe and the world, the Port is set to play an even more critical role. PoliticsHome sat down with Doug Bannister, CEO of the Port of Dover, to learn more about the Port’s past and its ambitions for the future.

The Port of Dover holds a special place in the history, culture, and economy of the UK. The historical significance of the Port of Dover and its importance to the UK economy as a whole are difficult to overstate. It provides a fast, efficient, and sustainable connection to mainland Europe, operating for 364 days a year, with over 2 million trucks passing through its gates, facilitating more than £144 billion of trade.

The Port’s activities have a tangible impact on Britons in every corner of the UK. A third of all trade between the United Kingdom and the European Union comes through the Port of Dover. From ensuring that manufacturers can easily access critical components to helping consumers find the products that they need on their local supermarket shelves, there is barely an area of national life that is not somehow impacted by the Port of Dover’s activities.

As CEO of the Port of Dover, Doug Bannister plays a vital role in keeping goods and people flowing quickly and easily in and out of the country. He told PoliticsHome that he is pleased to see that the role of UK ports is increasingly understood by legislators and policymakers, particularly as the UK establishes a new trading relationship with its European partners.

“Ports play a vital role up and down the nation for overall UK prosperity,” Bannister explained to PoliticsHome. “It is an exciting time. We are in a new trading environment, we have got past the pandemic, and we have increased our attention on sustainability. We are leading the way on a lot of this stuff and we are doing it on behalf of the nation as a whole.”

As the UK embarks upon forging a new relationship with Europe and other trading partners around the world, Dover is set to play an even more critical role in enabling the flow of people, products, and ideas that will enrich the nation. However, if that is to be delivered, then Bannister acknowledges that the Port will have to draw upon its centuries of experience in adapting to change.

“We find ourselves in a new trading regulatory environment and we are having to adapt to a new range of processes and policies,” he told PoliticsHome. “We have to find ways in which we can continue to provide the excellent service that we always have. And that means a lot of adaptation.”

Adapting to change is certainly nothing new for the Port of Dover. Since receiving its Royal Charter in 1606, it has dealt with Napoleonic wars, global conflicts, and the joining and leaving of the European Union. However, whilst the precise nature of the connection between the UK and Europe has shifted and changed, the fundamental importance of that relationship remains a constant.  

“Our relationship with Europe is key to Britain's prosperity,” Bannister tells us. “Whilst we may not be inside the European Union anymore, it remains our key trading partner. We need to work with European partners and collaborate on processes and opportunities. If we do, then that will pay dividends for all of us.”

Whilst highlighting the significant economic role the Port plays for the nation, Bannister also believes that empowering exchange has an importance that extends beyond the movement of goods. Enabling connection with our neighbours, he told PoliticsHome, also shapes the cultural and social fabric of the nation bringing new ideas and thinking to our shores.

“Every trade is an exchange of some form, but exchange also takes place when individuals share memories, share experiences, and share learning,” Bannister says. “Exchange occurs when people meet and discuss and collaborate. That opens up new doors and new opportunities for people to enrich themselves or enrich their businesses. It drives innovation.”

“Innovation” is a word that comes up repeatedly during our sit-down conversation with Bannister, and it is evident that innovation will be front and centre as the Port of Dover embarks on the next stage of its journey. The latest manifestation of the relationship between the UK and Europe brings a range of potential challenges as new processes are put in place. However, it gives rise to a host of opportunities too, - opportunities that Bannister is confident the Port possesses the vision, people, and processes to embrace.

“As a Port, we have reduced our carbon emissions by 95% since 2007 and committed to achieving carbon net zero by 2025"

High on his current agenda are the developing plans for the introduction of the European Entry/Exit System (EES) in 2024. The new system will register non-EU nationals, including UK travellers, each time they are visiting European countries, signalling a major change in the way travel and trade are conducted between the UK and Europe.

Bannister is confident that the close and collaborative relationships that exist between the Port of Dover and governments on both sides of the Channel will ensure that the system is implemented in a way that is as frictionless as possible for travellers and for those moving goods in and out of the UK.

“We've been working closely with our government and government officials have been doing an absolutely fantastic job in making certain that we are developing the plans and the solutions to be able to operate,” he explains. “We still need some decisions to be made to get these improvements over the line, but we’re working really well.”

And embracing the future extends far beyond the introduction of new border controls. Delivering a futureproofed port also requires a set of broader changes that reflect the growing need to operate in a way that minimises environmental impact. Bannister is determined that the Port of Dover will demonstrate bold leadership when it comes to slashing carbon emissions and establishing a “green shipping corridor” between the UK and France.

“As a Port, we have reduced our carbon emissions by 95% since 2007 and committed to achieving carbon net zero by 2025,” he tells us. “That is 5 years faster than anywhere else in the UK.”

However, to unlock sector innovation, Bannister believes the government needs to ensure that it works closely with UK ports to help secure the infrastructure that is required for a shift to electrification.

“I think government has a powerful role to play,” he says. “Not necessarily to dictate the low carbon fuels of the future, but through giving us the tools we need to fulfil our aims to drive decarbonised supply chains for the UK.”

For Bannister, that support needs to begin with a recognition of the economic significance of UK ports. He believes such a recognition could lead to a speeding up of the planning approvals process to put new infrastructure and facilities in place to support the industry’s progress towards electrification.

It is clear talking with Bannister that the Port of Dover stands ready to invest in supporting the future trading ambitions of the UK as a whole. Unlocking that industry innovation will require policy certainty and an operating environment that encourages investment. However, with a combination of government leadership and business investment in place, Bannister is confident that the next stage in the Port of Dover’s journey could turn out to be the most impactful, seamless, and sustainable in its illustrious history.   

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