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Major Ports Group Launches Open Data Project to Boost the UK’s ‘Coastal Powerhouse’

The UK Major Ports Group (“UKMPG”), the voice for the UK’s largest port operators, has today launched an open data project to gather, organise and present data on the UK’s coastal communities. The goal of the project is to provide a large-scale resource of data, interactive and open to all, to inform and improve policy making for the UK’s often hard-hit coastal communities.

UKMPG will be working with the experts at The Open Data Institute Leeds (“ODIL”) to deliver this project. The ODIL works with companies and governments to build an open, trustworthy data ecosystem, where people can make better decisions using data.

The UK’s ports are our main gateways for trade with the world, handling 95% of the UK’s import and export of goods[1], including half the UK’s food and feed needs. They are also significant catalysts for investment, jobs and prosperity for coastal communities all around the coast of the UK[2]. Many of these communities’ battle with significant socio-economic challenges[3] and some may be worst hit by the fallout from the COVID-19 crisis[4]. These coastal locations have unique and important advantages for the UK – such as centres for logistics resilience and renewable energy. And the communities in these locations are desperate to unleash more of their potential.

Yet there is no coherent significant Government strategy for meeting the needs and realising the potential of coastal areas. No Minister for a ‘Coastal Powerhouse’. No strategic initiative for an ‘Engine’ to grow the opportunities in these regions for more investment, jobs and prosperity. Could this be in part fallout from fragmented data and poor definitions about a ‘coastal area’ that makes it difficult to understand the scale of the challenge and provide the detail to underpin well targeted policy? The UKMPG and ODIL project will address this.

Commenting on the launch on the open data for coastal communities project Tim Morris, CEO of UKMPG, said “Research has shown the challenges that coastal communities often face and ports know from being a big part of these communities that there is huge potential to revitalise the UK’s ‘Coastal Powerhouse’. Politicians need to move on from just the usual ‘north vs south’ soundbites and address the deeply worrying coastal divide. Major ports know the power of harnessing data from driving efficiency and value in their own business. It’s an approach we want to see applied more in policy making and in a way that’s open for anyone to contribute and everyone to benefit.”

Paul Connell, Founder and Head of Innovation for the Open Data Institute Leeds said “As a mission-led organisation, ODI Leeds works to help address some of the most pressing challenges of our times. We think that by being ‘Radically Open’ – where you work in the open, share your data and thinking, be honest about your challenges – you can innovate faster. When people are allowed to join in without permissions or barriers, they will help you find the errors in your data or they will suggest how you should publish something to get the most people using it. They do this because they ultimately want to use the data or see the data be used for good. It’s fantastic that UK Major Ports Group want to work in the open, they will be generating a massive surplus of value that others can benefit from in the years to come. They will get that value back when someone develops a visualisation or tool that enhances the understanding of coastal communities and more.”

To read the ODIL’s blog kicking off the project click here.

Watch a short animation on the vital contribution ports make to the UK

[1] UK Port Freight Statistics: 2016 (Revised), Department for Transport, 2017, page 3

[2] In addition to the 115,000 direct jobs in UK ports they also provide significant multiplier effects (e.g. 7x for wider job creation ) and economic stimulus (e.g. £4 of wider coastal economy benefit for £1 spent on a transport project connecting a port to the trunk network ) for surrounding communities and economies. See “The economic contribution of the UK ports industry: A report for Maritime UK” – CEBR, September 2019

[3] For example, see “Living on the edge: Britain’s coastal communities”, Sept 2017 & “Falling off a cliff” Aug 2019, Social Market Foundation

[4] For example, see “COVID-19 and our Towns”, The Centre for Towns, April 2020 & “The geography of the COVID-19 crisis in England”, Institute for Fiscal Studies, June 2020