Transport minister told “unfair” tax could drive away port business

FELIXSTOWE: Port chiefs have met transport minister Mike Penning to voice their growing concerns that taxes on ships could be driving away business.

Bosses at the Port of Felixstowe – Britain’s top container terminal – say vessels calling to deliver and collect goods pay an unfair proportion of “light dues”, a tax which pays for navigational systems and aids such as buoys and lighthouses.

One of the biggest gripes is that money from ships visiting the port is used to pay for navigation equipment guarding Ireland’s coast, not even part of the UK.

Senior managers from the port met Mr Penning to put their points across and are hoping he will order a full review of the tax.

Ships calling at Felixstowe can pay up to �20,000 per visit, and last year shipping companies using the port paid a total of �13.7million, more than 20 per cent of all such dues collected in the whole of the UK and Ireland.

Head of corporate affairs for Felixstowe’s owners Hutchison Ports UK, Paul Davey, said the port felt the amount of light dues paid by its customers were disproportionate when the port had only 3pc of UK shipping calls and handled only 4pc of total tonnage.

“We had a very positive meeting with the minister and he took on board what we were saying and we were pleased he reaffirmed the government’s commitment to reduce the costs of the lighthouse authorities and tackle the issue of the Irish subsidy,” he said.

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“He told us they would be seeking a negotiated settlement with the Irish on the issue.

“With light dues so expensive, it doesn’t make it any easier to persuade the big shipping lines to include the UK in their direct calls.”

In Europe, navigation aids are generally paid for out of national taxation rather than the shipping lines being charged.

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