IT IS ‘vital’ ministers value the city’s port as highly as Dover with the threat of a no-deal Brexit looming, city officials have said as a report revealed it contributes £390m to the national economy.
City leaders warned of the port's 'critical' role in trade with the European Union and the rest of the world as well as the cash it brings to the UK, saying it is 'essential' the port is protected.
Findings from a new economic impact report on the Portsmouth City Council-owned port were presented at a parliamentary reception held yesterday evening.
The study by Oxford Economics found that in 2017 Portsmouth International Port contributed £189m to the local economy and £390m to the national economy.
It also provided 5,590 jobs and handled almost four million tonnes of cargo. Trade with non-EU countries was valued at almost £700m.
Cruise lines including CMV, Viking, Ponant, Saga and Fred Olsen use the port, along with Brittany Ferries and Condor Ferries.
Port director Mike Sellers said: 'We knew we were a significant port and a major port around the UK, especially around the number of passengers that pass through here.
'So we knew we were a major port but what we were pleasantly surprised with was the extent of the value of the trade through here that the port brings not only to the Portsmouth City Council area but also to the UK economy.’
Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt said it was a 'pleasure' to present the findings. Speaking to other politicians and members of the shipping industry she said: 'What the report has shown is not just the importance of the port to our own economy but to the nation, as well as the huge number of jobs it provides.
'But what this is really about is showing its potential for growth. We need to make sure we are not just putting our best foot forward with negotiating what Brexit means for the port but how we can utilise the port to grow our own economy and contribute to the GDP.
‘By showcasing what the port is up to we are looking to attract investment.'
The port is responsible for nine million passengers a year using services to France, Spain, the Channel Islands, Isle of Wight and neighbouring town Gosport.
And in 2017, it was the fourth-largest UK port for the import of non-EU fruit and vegetables. More than 85 per cent of the port's non-EU imports that year were food and live animals, for a total value exceeding £450m.
It comes as Portico, the cargo handling firm at the port, won back a five-year contract from Geest bringing in fruit from abroad.
Chris Roberts, financial director at Geest, said: 'We have had pressure from our customers to move back to Portsmouth. I think they – in particular our smaller customers – said Portsmouth was better to get to than Dover as it has better transport links to London.
'Dover did a good job for us when we were there but we have seen a change in structure in Portsmouth and how they operate. We are confident they will do the job well for us.'
There have been concerns that around £500,000 provided by government was not enough to cover the cost of no-deal Brexit preparations, which have so far cost the council more than £1m.
Deputy council leader Steve Pitt said: 'Government has been putting an awful lot of emphasis on Dover and what might be happening around Brexit as well as an awful lot of investment in that area.
'But it's actually vitally important that they understand Portsmouth is a major port too and actually if things don't work well at Dover they will be diverting some of that traffic here so it's essential that they fund us properly in order to make that happen.’
Harry Theochari, chairman of Maritime UK, agreed. He said: 'People really need to understand the importance of our ports in the UK. 95 per cent of all our physical trade is imported and exported through ports and £500bn worth of trade goes through our ports every year.
'Portsmouth is part of that. From what I've seen I think that in the event of a no-deal Brexit all our ports will have things under control within the first three to six months.
'But if these ports are saying they need more support from government then that's what we should give them - because they are so essential to our economy.'
Portsmouth International Port is owned by Portsmouth City Council. This financial year the port contributed £8.4m to the authority's funds.
Around £1m spent on no-deal Brexit preparations
So far Portsmouth City Council has spent £1.007m on no-deal Brexit preparations.
This was all to mitigate dealing with traffic congestion on the area's road network from any delays in processing vehicles at Portsmouth International Port and expected additional traffic to the port.
It includes around £500,000 to create a heavy goods vehicle parking area and £150,000 for partial implementation of changes to the road network.
There will be further costs to implement changes to the road network if the UK were to leave the EU without a deal such as creating checkpoints for lorries and there would be ongoing running costs for managing this and the parking area.
Along with all unitary authorities, Portsmouth received £105,000 from government last year and another £105,000 this year, in addition to £136,362 given to the city as a port.
Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: 'It’s essential we protect the port, as a critical trade route for goods, a vital contributor to the economy and a crucial support for council services.
‘We hope that these latest findings resonate with others, and demonstrate the significance of the port to make sure it’s always considered on a national level.’
Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan added: ‘No-deal preparations are costing the city council around £4 m and no indication of how and when this funding will be reimbursed has been offered by the government.
‘As it stands, we see a conversation saturated by talks about Dover, while these talks are essential, we must all work together to ensure that Portsmouth International Port and others have their voice heard.
'So far I have written to three government departments countless times to raise this point and I will ensure that I continue to act as a voice my city’s port in parliament.'