The British International Freight Association (BIFA) is disappointed that the UK Government is going ahead with plans to increase light dues a tax levied on ships calling in the UK to fund aids to navigation.
The UK trade association for freight forwarding companies had expressed its hopes that the Department for Transport (DfT) would re-think the proposed increases in light dues. BIFA had expressed fears that such increases would force shipping lines to bypass UK calls, resulting in port job losses and poorer services for its core freight forwarding membership which serves UK importers and exporters. The DfT has announced that light dues will rise to 39p per net registered ton (nrt) from 1st July this year with a further increase to 43p on 1st April 2010. The maximum number of chargeable voyages each year will also rise from 7 to 9, with the upper tonnage threshold of 35,000 increasing to 40,000 nrt in 2010-11. The increase in the voyage cap will mean that the short-sea and ferry industries will see a 43% increase in light dues.
Peter Quantrill, BIFA Director General commented: BIFA recognises that the government has made some concessions following sustained opposition from many in the shipping industry, including ourselves. We also acknowledge the absolute importance of maintaining such a significant service for the shipping industry. However, we still feel these increases are excessive, particularly in the current economic conditions. We note the Governments belief that the transport providers, not the general taxpayer, should pay for these essential safety services. However, we agree with others that a possible consequence of rises like this could be that shipowners transfer services to ports on the continent, leaving UK shippers and forwarders with less choice.
One unintended consequence of a decision by shipping lines to bypass UK ports as a result of the increase may be that the Government obtains less revenue rather than more. In our experience, the steamship lines faced with rises such as these would seek to pass them on to their customers which will have a negative effect on our members. At a time when the British consumer and business is struggling, this move is likely to increase the cost of imports and exports, further damaging the British economy at this critical time.