Marine sector battling choppy waters

Charlie Thomson
Charlie Thomson

Most owners of South West marine businesses (59%) believe that their sector will not emerge from the recession until next year, or the year after.

An even bigger majority (72%) feel that the sector’s importance to the regional economy is overlooked by politicians, even though a fifth (20%) suggest that the region’s news media seem more interested in the sector’s importance and problems than those politicians.

These are among the top-line findings of the latest survey of South West marine business-owners, conducted by Bishop Fleming, the accountancy firm with the widest spread of offices throughout the region.

Most respondents (57%) have seen their sales hit by the recession. Almost a quarter (23%) have seen sales reduced by a tenth, while 16% report sales down by a quarter.

According to Charlie Thomson, the partner heading Bishop Fleming’s marine sector team: “Almost three-quarters of our respondents said that the marine sector is not getting the recognition of its role in the South West’s economy, compared to tourism, agriculture, telecom-technology, and renewable energy.

“More than half (57%) observed that the South West Regional Development Agency had identified the marine sector for priority focus, but have seen little practical funding aid. A further 30% suggested that all the reasons for the Government to support the motor industry, like the scrapping scheme, should also apply to the marine industry in the South West,” saidThomson.

Meanwhile, almost a third of South West marine businesses (31%) have already had to shed staff, and a further 30% are now having to consider job-cuts.

Nonetheless, the survey reveals an underlying confidence for the future. Almost a quarter of respondents (24%) said that, although the region is losing some good businesses in the recession, others are investing in new ideas and new markets, ready for the up-turn.

“Some of the most telling results of this survey emerged from the personal comments from our respondents – over and above their answers to our questions,” added Thomson.

“Despite earlier initiatives to create a marine-sector body for the region, these seem to have floundered, with the Regional Development Agency having shut down its marine sector body.

“Other respondents made the point that the marine sector is as weather-dependant as those in the tourism industry – and three successive poor summers is not helping! As a keen boat-owner, I recognise the point that boat-owners only spend on their boat when they can use their boat,” said Thomson.